England was held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by Group H leader Montenegro in their UEFA World Cup qualifier in Podgorica on Tuesday. Wayne Rooney struck early in the first half, but the hosts came back at the Three Lions in the second, with Dejan Damjanovic converting a 76th-minute equalizer.
The result sees England stay second in Group H, two points behind Montenegro, with the next qualifying action for the British coming in September. Roy Hodgson rung the changes from England’s 8-0 win at San Marino on Friday as captain Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Michael Carrick, James Milner and Danny Welbeck all returned to the starting lineup.
The hosts, meanwhile, were without the suspended Milorad Pekovic and Savo Pavicevic, with midfield duo Nikola Drincic and Branko Boskovic also out through injury; however, key men Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic were fit and ready to spearhead their side.
The last time the Three Lions visited Podgorica, a Fabio Capello-led side had let a two-goal lead slip, with Rooney receiving his marching orders for a stamp in the second half. The Manchester United forward seemed determined to make amends for that, and he struck the post with a crafty chip from distance after just two minutes.
But a determined Rooney would not be denied at the second time of asking, as, four minutes later, the 27-year-old took full advantage of non-existent marking at the far post to head home from a corner. It was the perfect start for the visitors – and more was to come. On 24 minutes, England almost doubled the lead as Welbeck surged up the pitch on the counterattack, eventually falling just short of an inswinging cross from Rooney. Welbeck threatened again on the stroke of halftime as he broke into the Montenegro penalty area, only to be brought down by Stefan Savic. Rather than awarding a penalty, however, referee Jonas Olsson showed Welbeck a yellow card for diving.
The hosts came out from the halftime break with a different outlook, and they almost grabbed an instant equalizer after Jovetic’s far-post header shook the side-netting on 47 minutes. Marko Basa then came close with a header of his own before Jovetic and Vucinic fired wide and over, respectively to maintain the pressure. The Juventus forward came even closer 12 minutes later as he curled a controlled shot just wide Joe Hart’s left post.
Hart was then tested by a 20-yard strike from Jovetic, before a Gerrard deflection sent the ball crashing against the England post, but the Three Lions could not hold on for much longer and Damjanovic poked home after a goal-mouth scramble on 76 minutes. England duly responded and pushed for a winner, with Gerrard forcing Mladen Bozovic into action twice late on.
The score remained level, though, and an uphill task now awaits the Three Lions if they want to avoid a World Cup qualification playoff.