Roy Hodgson gamble on Andros Townsend pays off

We agonised over it I must say. We had plenty of discussions and argued things back and forth because on this occasion we did have so many players we could choose from.

To leave people like Jack [Wilshere] and James Milner out of an important game like this with their talent and experience was not an easy decision.

But, of course, we're glad it worked out well for us. I thought Andros, who got the man-of-the-match award, must be delighted with his evening's work.

– Roy Hodgson on his bold selection of Andros Townsend.

Call it brave. Call it bold. Call it a brilliant hunch by a manager who has been criticised for his caution.

Call it what you like but the moment Montenegro's net rippled with a quite stunning strike from Tottenham's debut boy Andros Townsend, Wembley resounded to a moon-rocket roar and England manager Roy Hodgson had silenced his doubters.

Townsend's strike capped a sublime performance by a 22-year-old in whom Hodgson had shown such faith in throwing into a World Cup qualifier packed with tension and nerves.

'Who dares wins', you might say and on this night it was Hodgson and England with a 4-1 victory which was justly deserved if only because England did all the pressing, made all the running, showed all the ambition.

Momentum is everything in football and this result and the emergence of Townsend will give England just the boost they need going into the deciding fixture against Poland on Tuesday.

No, England are not in Brazil just yet, but you could not fault the vim and vigour with which they went about their business.

Let's face it, that is how it should be. England should devour nations such as Montenegro.

It is a country with a population of 621,000, barely half the size of Birmingham. At 27 in the FIFA world rankings, 10 adrift of England, it is punching way above its weight. Why? Because it is also a nation with proud and determined footballers with a capacity for obduracy and no mean technique when it comes to defending.

That is why, despite the buoyant mood music of the past week, there was a nervousness around Wembley, the sort which prompts strikers to snatch at chances they would dispatch with aplomb in a run-of-the-mill league game.

That was how it was in the first half.

Danny Welbeck squandered a couple of early opportunities, Wayne Rooney rasped one shot just wide, Daniel Sturridge put one or three over the crossbar. Steven Gerrard brought a fine save from Montenegro goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic.

Rooney missed the easiest chance of all, hitting the side netting from six yards.

Yet Townsend was always a threat. In the absence of Theo Walcott he gave England pace and width and menace down the right. And yet as much as England battered away at the Montenegro door they struggled to get through.

Mostly that was down to shooting profligacy and a lack of imagination in the sort of match Barcelona face week in and week out against deep and committed defences determined and ambitious only to close down.

Such matches require patience and guile. It is no use continually running down the same cul-de-sacs. For too long there was too much huff and puff and not enough coherent thought about England.

Yet while England are not Barcelona there is a resolve and a tenacity about Hodgson's men to admire.

Quite how the scoreline in Kiev, where Ukraine defeated Poland 1-0 and leapfrogged temporarily to the top of the Group H table, went down at half-time in the England dressing room is anyone's guess.

But at least England knew exactly what they had to do and the Wembley faithful burst into a rendition of the National Anthem on the restart to help them on their way.

Hodgson, too, paced his technical area for the first time, wringing his hands and looking increasingly like a man on the edge.

Until, that is, Townsend picked up a loose ball and motored down the wing, right under Hodgson's nose, and delivered a cross from which Welbeck brought a fine save from Poleksic, only for Rooney to bundle home the rebound.

The glee with which Rooney slid on his knees in celebration was a measure of the relief around Wembley.

The own goal which followed from Branko Boskovic was as bizarre as it was welcome and it seemed England were home and dry until Dejan Damjanovic struck to set the nerves all aflutter.

No problem, not for Townsend whose fearless running culminated with a devastating shot which flew past Poleksic and might have taken England all the way to Rio.

Sturridge's late penalty, after he had been brought down by Ivan Kecojevic, gave the scoreline a convincing flavour.

Job done. Now let's do it all again.