England's destiny is in their own hands after overcoming Montenegro 4-1 to stay a point clear atop FIFA World Cup qualifying Group H, and the players were keen to usher winger Andros Townsend into the spotlight after his stunning debut.
The Tottenham Hotspur FC prospect dazzled on the right flank, creating the first goal just after half-time before striking the killer blow to a resurgent Montenegro with a magnificent strike, crowning a debut to remember. The 22-year-old certainly made an impression at Wembley.
"It was a brilliant performance for his debut and in such a high pressure game, too," marvelled Wayne Rooney. "It's great to see a young guy come into the team and take his chance like that. He scored a fantastic goal and I'm glad it came off for him."
Townsend's dynamic, exciting display was emblematic of an attacking unit that clicked against Montenegro, looking dangerous in possession and creating a wealth of chances. Rooney's sentiments were echoed by defender Gary Cahill. "He made the difference tonight," said the Chelsea FC player. "He was fantastic. Every time he got the ball he was positive and looked to create or get at the full-back.
"We deserve a bit of credit for the way we approached the game," Cahill continued. "We set out positively and really pushed them back and tried to create chances. The main thing was to get the tempo up and we did that tonight, so that was pleasing."
The foundations of such a performance were laid in Roy Hodgson's midweek work, according to Kyle Walker, Townsend's club-mate. "We practiced a lot of forward combinations in training and it seemed to pay off today. We created quite a few chances in the first half and we didn't really have many scares at the back – we just had to be wary of the counterattack."
Indeed, England were hurt by one such break during a rare and brief period of dominance from Montenegro, who halved the hosts' advantage through Dejan Damjanović and sent doubt creeping into their opponents. "Until then we looked comfortable, I never really thought they were going to score," said Rooney. "You don't know how you are going to react to that. Thankfully, we reacted well and got that third goal."
"We made it 2-1 and then we tried to put them under pressure," explained Montenegro captain Stevan Jovetić. "We got them a bit confused and maybe afraid, but then they scored the third goal and we were finished. We always believed, but we were handicapped with injuries. The players who came in their place played very well and I am very proud of my team, but England played better and deserved to win.
To the victor goes a place in Brazil next summer, then? Well, not just yet – there is the small matter of a home match against Poland on Tuesday, when only a win will guarantee their passage to the finals. "Only half the job's been done with the result tonight," warned Cahill. "We must approach Tuesday in the same way. We should be on the front foot again and I'm sure that's what the manager will be preaching over the next few days."
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