Townsend's splendid debut is just what England needed
ENGLAND 4 MONTENEGRO 1
England are just one win away from booking their ticket to next year's World Cup finals after Andros Townsend inspired Roy Hodgson's Three Lions to a 4-1 win over Montenegro at Wembley.
Hodgson gambled on Townsend by giving him his debut and he did not disappoint, as he put the seal on the win with a 25-yard strike which flew in off a post.
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Branko Boskovic scored an own goal, Daniel Sturridge converted a penalty and Wayne Rooney was also on the scoresheet while Dejan Damjanovic notched for the visitors.
Rivals Ukraine beat Poland in Kharkiv, meaning England will have to beat Poland on Tuesday at Wembley to seal their place in the World Cup.
With so much riding on the game, it was an uncharacteristic gamble from Hodgson to play Townsend.
The 22-year-old – a former Yeovil Town loan signing – started promisingly, though, cutting in from the right flank to play in Danny Welbeck but his cross was cut out.
Townsend continued to be a threat down the right. Manchester city striker Stevan 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.
Damjanovic had the ball in the England net following a rare away attack, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart then denied Damjanovic a goal moments later when he swept the ball clear after the striker broke the offside trap.
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 Baines swung in a deep cross to the unmarked Welbeck, but the ball deflected off his shoulder and wide of the goal.
Gerrard tried his luck from distance but Vukasin Poleksic – Montenegro's stand-in goalkeeper – tipped the ball around the post. Then Poleksic spilled a low drive from Townsend straight in to the path of Rooney, but he ploughed his shot into the side-netting.
Sturridge hammered a half-volley well over, and then in the final minute of the first period he wasted another chance by attempting a clever back-heel when a simple tap-in would have done.
Any nerves soon dwindled, though, as Rooney put England ahead. The Manchester 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 Kyle 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 back-heel 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 shot past his own goalkeeper.
Jovetic reminded England they were not out of the woods yet by dispatching a superb 25-yard shot that beat Hart but came back off the crossbar.
Then, all of a sudden, nerves were jangling as Montenegro pulled one back with 19 minutes left. 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 new boy Townsend. He 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.