Why Wayne Rooney Was England's Standout Performer vs. Montenegro
Things got a little hairy for England in their World Cup qualifying clash with Montenegro, Tuesday night.
Roy Hodgson's side were perhaps a little lucky to escape the Podgorica City Stadium with a 1-1 draw.
And Wayne Rooney's early effort was cancelled out by Dejan Damjanovic late in the second half.
England's biggest failing in the game was sitting back on their lead.
It took Montenegro's equalizer to eventually spur them into action. But with time swiftly running out, their late attacking flurry was in vain.
It was a gritty, grinding affair fought in a congested midfield. The first touches from several of England's finest was not up to par, nor was the width offered by Tom Cleverley and James Milner.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young were promising in this department against lowly San Marino, but both were dropped as Hodgson reverted to type.
In picking the Three Lions standout player, there are few options to choose from.
Steven Gerrard was his usual commanding self, and Chris Smalling and Ashley Cole were both reliable.
But Wayne Rooney was perhaps the best pick out of an underwhelming bunch.
The Manchester United forward wasn't at his best either, but his clinical finish after six minutes looked for a long time to be the difference.
Fitting in snugly behind his domestic teammate and renowned workhorse Danny Welbeck, Rooney operated in a role similar to the one which he has performed for the Red Devils this season.
During the first half, he was constantly dropping in short to connect with Gerrard and the more familiar Michael Carrick/Tom Cleverley combination.
His distribution was England's best for 45 minutes. He ultimately cut a frustrated figure in a highly uncomfortable second period, desperately trying to be creative on the counter attack.
Welbeck ran his socks off for much of the game, but ultimately lacked a quality end product to make much of an impression in the final third.
Though he only had one clear chance over the course of 90 minutes, Rooney was clinical.
The 27-year-old has had an up-and-down domestic season to date, but has been largely impressive for his national team.
It had been reported that the Montenegrin players would seek to provoke his infamous temper during Tuesday's game, looking for a repeat of his red card during a clash between the two sides in October 2011 (via The Telegraph).
But this is not the same Rooney that had a flash of red mist 18 months ago.
He has become a far more cerebral player. Fans of both United and England may decry his apparent loss of the explosiveness that marked his youth, but he is now a far more reliable threat.
Within a couple minutes of Tuesday's game, he issued a clear statement of intent: hitting Mladen Bozovic's post with a delicious chip that surely deserved better.
Moments later, he overpowered his marker at the far post to connect with a wonderfully floated Gerrard corner to give his side the lead.
Who was England's best player vs. Montenegro?
The header was adroit and decisive: Vladimir Volkov hesitated, Rooney capitalized.
The strike draws him level with Michael Owen in total goals scored in international competition. He has now scored in five consecutive games for the Three Lions.
Hodgson's side must wait until September for Group H to reconvene—and to re-write several of the wrongs that have dogged their early qualifying performances.
The team must adjust its attitude to these types of games as a whole. Montenegro's barnstorming comeback was impressive, but it was given plenty of leeway by a submissive England team.
What do you takeaway from England's 1-1 draw? Who impressed and who didn't?
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