VIDEO: Frustrating night for Three Lions
Tuesday, 12 October, 2010
Capello's men held to Wembley stalemate by dogged Montenegro.
By Nicholas Veevers at Wembley Stadium
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It was a frustrating night for England at Wembley, as they were held to a draw by Group G leaders Montenegro despite enjoying the vast majority of possession and chances over the course of the game.
Zlatko Kranjcar’s side arrived in England sitting on top of the group with three wins from three games so far, but they showed none of their previous ambition in this encounter and went away from Wembley with exactly what they wanted - a point.
With nine men behind the ball at all times, Montenegro had set their stall out for a draw and left it down to England to break them down without even showing the slightest intention of hitting the Three Lions on the counter-attack.
And it worked. Even when Fabio Capello’s men did manage to get a sniff of goal from the little space they were afforded, they found a goalkeeper in Mladen Bozovic in formidable and reliable form.
Whilst it wasn’t pretty at times, Montenegro will see it as a good job done in what was their biggest game of the campaign to date and amazingly, they came the closest to winning it with a late shot against the bar from midfielder Milan Jovanovic.
That would have been extremely rough justice though and it could have been so different, as England almost took a somewhat fortuitous lead after two minutes, when Steven Gerrard struck a driving pass towards the area for Peter Crouch. The big striker stretched for it but failed to make contact and as ball drifted past him, it almost caught Montenegro goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic out with its flight and pace before eventually flying narrowly wide of the post.
The first clear chance came in the 16th minute though. With a free-kick in the final third, the Montenegrins were expecting a delivery into the area, but Gerrard cleverly slid a free-kick out to the unmarked Glen Johnson on the right instead. He played an early cross into the area, but Crouch directed his header over the bar from eight yards out.
Ashley Young then won England a free-kick in a promising position when he twisted past two defenders from the left before being unceremoniously knocked to the ground by Miodrag Dzudovic on the corner of the area. Young dusted himself down to take the free-kick, but his swerving delivery was missed by everyone and drifted behind for a goal-kick.
Adam Johnson was a whisker away from scoring just after the half-hour mark when he struck a direct free-kick at goal from 30 yards following a trip on Crouch. Bozovic was scrambling across his goal-line, but fortunately for him and his team, the ball flashed just wide.
With half-time five minutes away, Wayne Rooney managed to fashion some space for himself on the right hand side of the area, but his square pass towards Crouch was cut out and moments later, Crouch returned the favour with a knock-down but again the visiting defence were alert enough to clear the danger.
Rooney then stung the hands of Bozovic in first half added time, when Gerrard’s fine pass picked out Glen Johnson on the right. His first ball into the area was half-cleared but only as far as the Manchester United man who didn’t really connect fully with his shot.
With no changes for the second half, the onus was again on England to attack and the purpose was outlined from the off. Firstly, Rooney struck an 49th minute howitzer just over the bar before Gerrard skipped around Jovanovic on the right only to fizz a centre across the area and beyond everyone.
Rooney was denied again in the 59th minute, when Gerrard’s slide-rule pass into the box picked out his diagonal run but when Bozovic blocked his initial shot, the ‘keeper was up quickly to smother the ball at Crouch’s feet.
The Three Lions were beginning to find a bit of momentum, but found the visitors in resilient mood and more than prepared to take cautions for the cause with a series of cynical fouls. England weren’t entirely innocent themselves, with Rooney, Young and Gareth Barry also collecting cards for their misdemeanours as the game threatened to descend into a niggly battle. With six bookings dished out in little over ten minutes, that was how it appeared to be going and Montenegro would certainly be the happier of the teams if it was to stay that way.
With 20 minutes to go, Capello introduced Kevin Davies to the action in place of Crouch and it lifted the side. Firstly, Rooney forced Bozovic into an excellent save with a toe-poke from Davies’ centre before Gerrard struck a 25-yarder at goal which the ‘keeper was again equal to.
Montenegro were fortunate not to give a penalty away in the 77th minute, when Jovanovic clearly handled the ball in the area when trying to clear Ashley’s Cole’s high cross. The referee was perhaps on the wrong side of the player to see the incident clearly, but he was offered no help by his assistant and the cries from players and crowd alike fell on deaf ears.
As the game drifted into the final ten minutes, Montenegro managed to slow the game down even more and then had the cheek to almost score themselves. Substitute Fatos Beciraj beat Glen Johnson down the left and as his cross was only partially cleared by Gerrard, Jovanovic struck a fine dipping shot at goal which had Joe Hart beaten all the way,only to come bouncing back off the cross bar and out to safety.
There was time for one last save from Bozovic, as he managed to turn Barry's shot away from goal following a chip into the box from Adam Johnson as England's night ended in sheer frustration.