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Mar 26, 2013

England holds on for Montenegro point

England manager Roy Hodgson still believes that England have the advantadge in Group H of the World Cup qualifications

England survived a second-half battering to claim a precious point from a 1-1 draw in its World Cup qualifier with group leaders Montenegro in Podgorica.

Roy Hodgson's side was the better side in the opening 45 minutes and deserved its lead through Wayne Rooney's 35th goal for his country. But as good as the visitors were before the break, they were bad afterwards.

Substitute Dejan Damjanovic eventually found the net, prodding home from close range to defy further heroics from Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott to leave Montenegro two points clear at the head of Group H.

"This is a great result for us, that gives us a good chance to qualify for the World Cup," Montenegro striker Mirko Vucinic said.

England tore into its opponent from the very start and in those dazzling early stages, no one shone brighter than Rooney. Sent off in this stadium 18 months ago for a needless act of petty violence that ruined his chances of making a positive impact at Euro 2012, Rooney was eager to impress.

The visitors continued to attack at speed. And when goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic got the faintest of touches to a Glen Johnson piledriver, it provided Steven Gerrard with the opportunity to seek Rooney out with a corner that he directed home with the minimum of disruption.

James Milner fired wide before Rooney dropped a cross just over the head of Danny Welbeck, who had started the move in the first place. An erratic bounce on a difficult pitch cost Rooney the chance to turn home a Milner cross from the tightest of angles.

The second goal England deserved might have come if Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson had viewed Stefan Savic's penalty box tangle with Welbeck as some TV viewers did in their replays. Instead of a spot kick though, Welbeck was booked, as was Glen Johnson earlier in the half.

Montenegro were expected to improve in the second half and Stevan Jovetic gave an early warning when he planted his far-post header into the side-netting after Savic had crossed, and half-time substitute Damjanovic had an effort blocked as he turned quickly onto Vucinic's lay-off.

"I told my players at halftime that they have nothing to fear from the England team," Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic said. "I told them they are not better than us. And, they delivered."

The pressure became relentless, with Gerrard among those culpable for getting dragged into an overwhelming desire to attack when the more necessary task was for England to remain solid and protect their lead.

England had lost their poise and were doing nothing more than hanging on. Another brilliant reaction save from Hart kept them in front, but the reprieve lasted only seconds as, in the scramble that followed, Damjanovic found the net.

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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