Hodgson’s bold choice rewarded as England move towards finals

ROY HODGSON admitted during the build-up to last night’s crucial qualifier that his reign had yet to register a “marque result”, the type of victory that will be remembered for many years to come.

England's Frank Lampard.

For Sven Goran Eriksson, it had been England’s 5-1 win in Munich. Terry Venables, meanwhile, will always be fondly remembered by fans of the national team for the four-goal Euro ’96 demolition of Holland at Wembley, while even Kevin Keegan presided over a tournament victory against Germany.

Hodgson agreed he had nothing to compare with those results as manager of the national team. He still does not.

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But what the 66-year-old can reflect on with satisfaction this morning after a dominant second-half display was enough to see off plucky if limited Montenegro is that England’s World Cup destiny remains very much in their own hands.

A victory over Poland on Tuesday night will be enough to guarantee top spot in Group H and condemn Ukraine, 1-0 victors over the Poles last night, to the play-offs.

England may have failed to impress for much of a lacklustre qualifying campaign, but such a scenario, particularly with that final game being on home soil, is one that most managers would gratefully accept when trying to qualify for a World Cup.

Of course, there is still plenty of work to do. Poland’s own hopes of reaching Brazil may have ended but, as Croatia proved when triumphing 3-2 at Wembley to prevent Steve McClaren’s side joining them at Euro 2008, a team with nothing to play for can still be a threat.

A draw for England on Tuesday will almost certainly mean Hodgson’s side being condemned to the play-offs because Ukraine’s own final fixture is against San Marino.

But the Three Lions will surely go into that Poland contest in confident mood following a dominant second half in which one-time Leeds United loanee Andros Townsend fully justified Hodgson’s gamble in handing him an international debut.

The Spurs wideman netted the third goal with a stunning 20-yard strike that all but made the game safe after Wayne Rooney’s 37th international strike and an own goal by the unfortunate Branco Boskovic had been followed by Dejan Damjanovic halving the home side’s advantage with a predatory finish.

Daniel Sturridge then rounded off a fine night for England with a stoppage-time penalty to banish memories of a largely insipid first-half display that, on a cold and damp night as far removed from the beaches of Rio as possible, suggested Montenegro might avoid defeat for a fourth time.

On a pitch bearing the scars of the gridiron played at Wembley a fortnight earlier, England found themselves largely gridlocked during those opening 45 minutes.

Not that Hodgson’s side could blame in any way the recently-laid strips of turf to replace those damaged by the NFL clash between Minnesota and Pittsburgh for their largely insipid efforts.

After starting in a positive manner and making use of debutant Townsend’s trickery out wide on the right, the Three Lions gradually lost their way.

A sea of red shirts became more and more difficult to break down and it was not until the closing stages of those first 45 minutes that England started to offer more than long-range efforts that did little to test Vukasin Poleksic.

Rooney came very close to making the breakthrough five minutes before half-time when, after releasing Townsend with a wonderfully incisive pass, the Manchester United striker fired against the post after Poleksic had palmed the ball in his direction.

It was a let-off for Montenegro but one they deserved, as was the case a couple of minutes later when Danny Welbeck shot took a wicked deflection before landing just a yard wide of the post.

Those two late chances apart, however, England offered little despite dominating possession.

Leighton Baines saw plenty of the ball down the left but struggled to make much headway, save for one run that saw the ball pulled back for Welbeck who had his shot saved by Poleksic.

The hope for the vast majority of the 83,807 crowd as the half-time whistle blew was that their heroes could start the second half in a similar fashion. They did that, Rooney taking just three minutes to find the net from close range after Poleksic had palmed Welbeck shot’s into the striker’s path.

England’s second may have had an element of good fortune with Boskovic turning the ball past his own goalkeeper.

But that slice of luck was earned by a truly visionary flick from Daniel Sturridge and typically strong run from Welbeck that opened up the visitors during the build-up.

At that stage, the game appeared all but over as both Welbeck and Steven Gerrard went close.

This being England, though, there had to be at least one worry and it came 19 minutes from time when Dejan Damjanovic diverted a shot from Beciraj past Joe Hart to halve the deficit.

Any fears, however, that the hosts may implode were put to rest when Townsend, whose storming run down the right flank had played such a pivotal role in Rooney’s opener, unleashed an unstoppable shot that beat Poleksic’s out-stretched hand.

The game was up for Montenegro and Sturridge added a fourth in stoppage time from the penalty spot after being upended by Ivan Kecojevic to cap a fine night for England.

England: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Townsend (Wilshere 80), Gerrard (Milner 87), Lampard (Carrick 65), Welbeck; Rooney; Sturridge. Unused substitutes: Smalling, Ruddy, Gibbs, Jones, Barkley, Defoe, Lambert, Forster.

Montenegro: Poleksic; Pavicevic (Beciraj 57), Savic, Kecojevic, Jovanovic; Boskovic, Drincic, Zverotic, Volkov (Vukcevic 73); Jovetic (Kasalica 81); Damjanovic. Unused substitutes: Vesovic, Delibasic, Blazic, Novakovic, Krkotic, Igumanovic, Janjusevic.

Referee: A Mallenco (Spain).