England slammed for 2nd half Montenegro shambles, Mourinho’s Chelsea return assessed, Liverpool still want Tom Ince

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We stopped playing after the break for 20 or 30 minutes and away from home you can’t afford to do that. We stopped passing and they got a deserved equaliser. I think there was lot of experience out there, and we showed that in first half but the problem is when you are only 1-0 up you are always vulnerable. They took control in the second half, apart from the last 10 minutes, but we are still confident we can finish top of the group.” – Steven Gerrard.

Runner-up: “I told my players they had nothing to be afraid of at half-time. Now, if we beat Ukraine in June, it would virtually guarantee us at least second place in the group, if not first place. And England should remember that, for us, it is a lot easier to play away from home. If we’d had all our players tonight, we would have won this game.” – Branko Brnovic.

Montenegro 1 – England 1

Dam it! (Charlie Wyatt, Sun) England’s rocky road to Rio was last night blocked by a Dam. Roy Hodgson’s side looked set for a crucial World Cup qualifying win against Group H leaders Montenegro until Dejan Damjanovic’s 77th-minute equaliser. That cancelled out Wayne Rooney’s sixth-minute header from skipper Steven Gerrard’s corner.

Fed-up Gerrard tosses his shirt to fans as England are left in second place after second-half shambles (Martin Samuel, Mail) Part of this team was patched up, but it is really no excuse. With so many injuries, the makeshift central defensive pairing of Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling always had the potential to be a point of weakness, and the midfield crumbled under pressure in the final half hour leaving them exposed and manic. The presumption of qualification is questionable after this. Montenegro are tasty, but one imagines the powers of European football would negotiate this group without much trouble. Holland put four past Romania on Tuesday night. Spain rallied to win in France. England, meanwhile, continue to make hard work of a country with a population the size of Sheffield and Rotherham, and will be on tenterhooks after this.

England freeze again (Steven Howard, Sun) How do they go from a well-balanced and well-organised side playing attractive and athletic football to a second-half shambles? How do Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick — and a few others — actually disappear off the radar completely after the break? There is just no consistency here. No stamina, no cohesion, no footballing intelligence. And not a great deal in the creative department to come in.

There were some positive signs from England but ultimately, Hodgson missed Rio (Martin Keown, Mail) In the second half when Montenegro upped their game, England missed a centre half to take control of the match and pull everyone together. Neither centre half was very demonstrative and you can see why Hodgson felt he wanted Rio Ferdinand’s leadership skills when he picked the squad. It is asking a lot of someone like Smalling to be a leader at 23 years old. It meant England invited the pressure. No-one was organising or taking charge. The corner Montenegro scored from was the perfect example. Neither centre half attacked the ball and that led to the scramble from which the goal was scored. Playing away for your country is not easy and it became harder as the game went on.

A Word On Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney’s shot at exorcism turns sour for England (Dominic Fifield , Guardian) This should have been about Wayne Rooney achieving redemption, with the perceived natural order restored and England back resplendent at the summit of their qualifying section. Instead, as the acrid smoke from the flares ignited at each end of this cramped arena drifted into the night sky and the home support bellowed their appreciation all around, Roy Hodgson and his staff trudged across the turf choked by numbing disappointment. An opportunity had been missed and, with six months to endure before competitive action is revisited, memories of Montenegro will continue to unnerve.

Wayne Rooney confronts demons in Montenegro but England fail to shake off past (James Lawton, Independent) Wayne Rooney came to a place where before he had found only ignominy and for a little while he chased away every demon. He also gave England an invitation to announce they really are a world-class force. Unfortunately, it plainly requires more than a superior performance from one individual running out of the shadows to work such a transformation. England surrendered the high ground won by Rooney and at the end they were still trailing in their pursuit of a place in the World Cup finals.

Are England A Long-Ball Team?

Tom Cleverley the water-carrier must tackle different loads (Glenn Moore, Independent)  Cleverley is always on the move, drifting into space between the lines, demanding the ball, getting it and moving it on. Most of his passes are no longer than 10 yards and he plays a lot of them – so much for England being a “long-ball” team.

Long-ball England prove critics right (Ian Wright, Sun) All they did was put some pressure on us and we could not cope. We outplayed them in the first half. We started so well and rocked them with an early goal. But how can a team be so much in control in the first half, scoring after just six minutes and then be forced to defend for the second 45? I thought we’d rammed their coach’s pre-match comments down his throat before the break. But they came back to haunt us. He said we were a long-ball team and in the second half we proved him right.

Where Was the England Substitution?

Roy Hodgson and England fail to match Montenegro’s attacking ideas (Michael Cox, Guardian) England’s substitution – Ashley Young for Cleverley, as they moved to more of a 4-4-2 – was made in the aftermath of the equaliser, which had come from their 17th attempt. It was too late: throughout the second half England were not excelling in any area of their gameplan. Their defending was nervous, their ball retention disappointing and their counter-attacking threat minimal. Some form of change was needed.

Hodgson should have made changes earlier, England sorely missed Wilshere, but at least Carrick impressed (Jamie Redknapp, Mail) I can imagine Roy Hodgson is kicking himself for not making a change. He waited for them to score before changing it up. You sense it as a player when the game is turning against you and you can’t stem the tide. Their manager made bold changes and Roy will feel he acted too late. It was  1-1 before he brought on his first substitute.

Roy Hodgson’s honeymoon continues but feelgood factor fading fast after Montenegro draw (Ollie Holt, Mirror) Despite what Hodgson said later, it is difficult to see why he did not make a change. It was evident it was only a matter of time until Montenegro equalised. But the change did not come and Dejan Damjanovic scored the inevitable equaliser with a quarter of an hour still to play. It was only then that Hodgson brought on Young for the tiring Cleverley, but by then, England were being overrun. They clung on for a point, but only just. Hodgson’s honeymoon goes on. But only just.

Mourinho Back To Chelsea

Turning back the clock at Chelsea would be Mourinho’s greatest trick (Neil Ashton, Mail) Mourinho is the biggest of them all, but he knows that restoring Chelsea to the top of European football is a sizeable task. They didn’t even finish in the top four last season, settling for a place behind Newcastle as they chased the Champions League under Roberto Di Matteo. The careers of Terry, Lampard and possibly keeper Petr Cech are coming to a close after years of sustained success at Stamford Bridge. Returning to Chelsea will not be easy. Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar are exceptional talents, but they are not the kind of players Mourinho would automatically associate with. He has always relied on seasoned professionals, players with stamina and that little bit of steel required for the rigours of a 38 game Premier League season. Changing the face of Chelsea will require some serious money over the summer, something Abramovich will readily agree to if it means restoring former glories. That will take time, but turning back the clock will be the biggest challenge.

Moyes To Sunderland?!

The only way is up if Moyes moves on (Martin Samuel, Mail) David Moyes has been linked to Sunderland if Martin O’Neill leaves at the end of the season. Now why on earth would he want that? The frustration for Moyes is surely the glass ceiling that limits those clubs beneath the Champions League elite. He can only go so far at Everton. Yet if anything, as O’Neill is discovering, at Sunderland it is worse. On the day O’Neill was appointed, it was stated that Sunderland’s ambition was to become a top 10 club. Instantly, it seemed limiting for a manager of his ability. Who cares who comes 10th — or ninth, eighth or seventh for that matter? The problem for Moyes is that he does good work, without glory. Unless there is a dramatic injection of funds — which is not allowed now anyway — what would be different at Sunderland?

Liverpool Want Ince, Again

Kop back in for Ince (Sun) Liverpool will make a renewed bid to re-sign Tom Ince this summer. The Reds tried to land Ince, 21, in January but Blackpool refused to lower their £6million valuation. Yet Kop boss Brendan Rodgers remains a big admirer and hopes a fee in the region of £4m will tempt them this time.