AS England tonight chase what he admits will be the first “marque result” of his reign, Roy Hodgson has revealed the trust he has in the squad to deliver World Cup qualification.
The Three Lions host Montenegro and Poland in the final round of qualifiers knowing that a six-point return will be enough to book a place at next year’s finals.
Anything less, however, and any one of three sides could overtake England and leave Hodgson’s men facing, at best, the play-offs.
The stakes, therefore, are high at Wembley for a side whose only previous victories in the current qualifying group have come over the minnows of Moldova and San Marino.
Hodgson said: “We haven’t had a marque result, that is quite right. The one we did have was the friendly (last February) against Brazil at home. We also drew away.
“But you can’t have a marque result in a friendly. If I compare how I feel about the team today compared to 18 months ago, just before Euro 2012, I personally think we are a long way forward on that.
“People do doubt sometimes, and can quote the statistics – you haven’t beaten the Ukraine, only drew in Poland, and so on.
“This gives us an opportunity to put that right. I know the players are ready to do that. The nation is, too. They will back us. They want to be in Brazil and they expect us to get them to Brazil.”
Montenegro will arrive at Wembley missing a couple of key players, talismanic striker Mirko Vucinic and first-choice goalkeeper, Mladen Bzovic.
However, with a points tally just one behind England and having Moldova as their final opponents, a draw or better will be a major lift to their own hopes of qualifying.
Asked if tonight’s opposition looked weaker than when drawing with his side earlier in qualifying, Hodgson said: “Looks like it, on paper. Their form has not been great.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t consider their second-half performance against us as their best in qualification.
“We didn’t play well and were taken aback about how easy it had been in the first half.
“But they didn’t play nearly as well in that game against Ukraine.
“It is Wembley, we have good players and I believe we will do this.”
What England cannot do tonight, Hodgson insists, is throw caution to the wind in the hunt for all three points.
“We have got 93 minutes, or whatever it is, and it is important our tempo is high,” he said.
“We don’t waste time; we want the ball back in play as quickly as possible so we get as many attacks as we can get in.
“But we have got to be aware that if we throw people forward willy nilly and have no thought about what’s going on behind us, we can get punished.
“The good thing is I don’t need to ram that message home to the players. They get that in the Premier League every week.
“I also believe in the players, I trust the players.
“We have played some big games outside this qualifying group: Norway, Italy, Belgium, Sweden.
“I have seen the players step up to the plate and do well.
“I know how determined the players are to do the job, making certain we step out and perform. And deliver.
“I have every reason to trust and believe them. In the time I have worked with them, they have never given me reason to doubt.”
Hodgson plans to reveal his starting line-up to the squad later today after spending plenty of time deliberating over his options.
It is a call the 66-year-old has to get right, as should England fail to reach next year’s World Cup there will undoubtedly be an almighty clamour for a change of manager.
Asked about his future, Hodgson initially responded: “That’s all been said.”
He then added: “Taking on the role as manager of an England team is a big responsibility. We are England, we are one of the big nations and we are expected to qualify for World Cups and European Championships.
“If that doesn’t happen, you will get criticism. If you are wise, you realise there will be criticism during qualifying as well.
“I suppose, as a football coach, you might like whether the team is preparing well or developing well being taken into account, but we all realise that England expects.
“We are expected to play well in these two games, win them and reach the World Cup. That’s what we’re going to be doing our level best to do.”