ROY Hodgson hit the World Cup jackpot after taking a punt on the kid who breached the FA’s betting regulations.
Andros Townsend was fined £18,000 and banned for four months in the summer. That misdemeanour was forgotten last night though as the Tottenham winger took Montenegro apart and then scored the goal that helped England to a 4-1 victory that leaves them just one more win away from booking their place in Brazil.
Handed his debut on the most tense of occasions, Townsend played with a freedom no one else could match. His run set up Wayne Rooney for England’s opener just after the break and then, after Dejan Damjanovic had cancelled out a bizarre Branko Boskovic own goal, Townsend scored a stunning third, driving straight at the Montenegro defence before producing a brilliant finish from the edge of the area.
It was a priceless contribution for, with Ukraine beating Poland and only having San Marino to play, England had to win to remain in control of their own destiny.
Daniel Sturridge’s injury-time penalty rounded off a handsome victory. But they will take on Poland in their final match at Wembley on Tuesday without full-back Kyle Walker, suspended after being harshly booked for tugging back Stevan Jovetic in the second half.
With so much riding on the game, it was an uncharacteristic gamble from Hodgson to play Townsend. The 22-year-old started promisingly, though, cutting in from the right flank to play in Danny Welbeck but his cross was cut out.
Rooney also looked lively, crashing a deflected shot just a foot wide of Vukasin Poleksic’s goal.
Townsend continued to be a threat down the right. Jovetic had to resort to a cynical body check to bring the winger down after he beat two players but the hosts wasted the free-kick.
Dejan Damjanovic had the ball in the England net following a rare away attack, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Joe Hart then denied Damjanovic a goal moments later when he swept the ball clear after the striker broke the offside trap.
Leighton Baines gave Zverotic the slip and just managed to square the ball to Welbeck despite coming under pressure from free agent Drinkic, but Poleksic palmed the Manchester United striker’s shot away. The home crowd held their breath for a brief moment as Jovetic’s shot looped up in the air off Gary Cahill’s outstretched leg, but, thankfully for England, the ball landed in Hart’s arms.
England were soon back on the attack, and with five minutes of the half left, they had their best chance. Poleksic spilled a low drive from Townsend straight in to the path of Rooney, but the Manchester United striker ploughed his shot into the side-netting.
Hodgson patrolled his technical area with his hands clasped together just after the break, clearly worried about his team’s plight. Those nerves soon disappeared, though, as Rooney put England ahead.
The United striker had Townsend to thank for making the goal. The young midfielder picked the ball up five yards inside his half and galloped 50 yards down the right flank before he sent a deflected cross into Welbeck’s path. Poleksic saved his shot, but the rebound fell to Rooney and he readjusted his body to stab home under the Montenegro goalkeeper.
Hodgson held his arms up in triumph, but the England manager was fuming just a few minutes later when Walker picked up a booking for a petty pull on Jovetic’s shirt, ruling him out of Tuesday’s game against Poland.
Hodgson was soon smiling again, though, when England doubled their lead. A clever backheel from Sturridge set Welbeck free down the left and he pulled the ball back.
The pass was intended for Rooney, but Boskovic did the honours instead, stabbing a perfectly-placed shot past his own goalkeeper.
Then, all of a sudden the nerves were jangling inside Wembley as Montenegro pulled one back with 19 minutes left. Substitute Fatos Beqiraj was given far too much space on the edge of the box.
He fired a low shot at goal and Damjanovic stuck his left leg out and prodded the ball past Hart. England appealed for offside, but the striker was level.
Calm was restored again five minutes later thanks to a stunning strike from Townsend.
The Tottenham man picked the ball up and gained a metre on Simon Vukcevic before unleashing a low 25-yard drive which cannoned in off Poleksic’s left-hand post.
Ivan Kecojevic upended Sturridge in the penalty area in injury time and the Liverpool striker slotted home the penalty to complete the win.
England: England: Hart,Walker,Cahill,Jagielka,Baines, Townsend (Wilshere 80),Gerrard (Milner 87),Lampard (Carrick 65), Welbeck,Rooney,Sturridge. Subs Not Used: Ruddy,Smalling,Gibbs,Jones,Barkley,Defoe,Lambert, Forster.
Montenegro Poleksic,Pavicevic (Beqiraj 57),Jovanovic,Savic, Kecojevic,Volkov (Vukcevic 73),Boskovic,Zverotic,Drincic, Jovetic (Kasalica 81),Damjanovic. Subs Not Used: Blazic,Vesovic,Delibasic,Novakovic,Krkotic, Igumanovic,Janjusevic.