Euro 2012 qual. - Lacklustre England draw blank

Tue, 12 Oct 22:00:00 2010

England were booed off after losing their 100 per cent Euro 2012 qualifying record as Montenegro held them to a 0-0 draw at Wembley.

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The well-drilled Balkan side exposed England's inability to break down defensively-minded opponents, and though Fabio Capello's side were denied a clear penalty for handball they can hardly feel aggrieved after a tepid performance.

Both teams came into the game with perfect records from their qualifying matches, though Montenegro had played one game more. The visitors maintained their three-point lead at the top of Group G and celebrated enthusiastically after a fourth consecutive clean sheet.

Though England's qualification is not in serious danger, Capello will be upset at his team's failure to show the kind of patience and intelligence displayed by Spain as they won the World Cup off the back of a sequence of 1-0 wins.

It was another sloppy passing performance to make fans lament Paul Scholes's exile from international football - or pray Jack Wilshere continues his development at warp speed.

And it was yet another underwhelming England display from Wayne Rooney, who returned from an ankle injury and played in a second striker role behind Peter Crouch.

He had a frustrating night, evidence by his rash tackle from behind on Elsad Zverotic to earn a yellow card early in the second half. He might have won it late on, but was denied by a fine save from Mladen Bozovic late on.

Montenegro's danger man Mirko Vucinic was ruled out by a thigh injury picked in training, but the visitors made a positive start, with Radomir Djalovic and Simon Vukcevic both shooting wide from 25 yards.

Thereafter, England controlled the game, which had the unwanted consequence of causing Montenegro to retreat back into their own half.

The World Cup games versus the USA and Algeria showed England are not comfortable playing a patient style against opposition who get men behind the ball, but that is exactly what they faced.

Wingers Ashley Young and Adam Johnson both made their first competitive start in the absence of the injured Theo Walcott and suspended James Milner, and both showed promise.

Johnson in particular ran again and again at Stefan Savic and Milan Jovanovic, but his crossing too often hit the first defender.

Peter Crouch has a phenomenal scoring record at Wembley, with seven goals in his previous five games at the stadium, but only started because Darren Bent picked up a groin injury.

He nearly added to his tally in the third minute, sliding on to a Steven Gerrard through ball, but could not reach it with a long, probing leg.

Crouch then squandered an excellent chance, heading surprisingly off target when found in space by Glen Johnson.

Montenegro are by no means a team of destroyers, but they do what needs to be done to halt the opposition's momentum.

This was never clearer than in the 24th minute, when Miodrag Dzudovic halted a marauding Young inches outside the box with a cynical bodycheck, happily paying the price of a yellow card.

In the second half, Marko Basa and Stefan Savic committed similarly 'professional' fouls, halting England's progress at the cost of a booking.

As murmurs of discontent swirled around Wembley, Wayne Rooney nearly broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first half, but shot straight at Bozovic under pressure from 15 yards.

England's much-publicised injury crisis left Fabio Capello with a rum collection of subs from which to choose, and it was 33-year-old Kevin Davies who got the nod to become the country's oldest debutant for 60 years when he replaced Crouch on 70 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, the combative Davies's contribution was limited mainly to committing fouls, and he was duly booked for raising his arms.

England should have had a penalty 10 minutes from time after referee Manuel Grafe and his assistants somehow failed to spot a blatant handball from Jovanovic.

And Jovanovic nearly made England pay a couple of minutes later, when he fired a dipping 30-yarder that arced over the previously under-employed Joe Hart and smacked back off the crossbar.

But there was no breakthrough for either side, and England's final competitive match of a disappointing 2010 ended, appropriately enough, to the sound of boos.

Alex Chick / Eurosport

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