Chris Smalling remains confident England will qualify for the World Cup.
A win in Podgorica would have seen Roy Hodgson’s side pull a point clear of Montenegro in Group H, and Wayne Rooney’s sixth-minute strike looked to have set them on the way. But despite dominating the first half, the visitors appeared to take the foot of the gas in the second period, allowing the home side to draw level late on.
This maintained the Montenegrins’ two point advantage at the head of the standings, with four matches remaining. If this remains the same until the end of the campaign, then England face the possibility of a two-legged playoff match, with the likes of France, Croatia, Sweden and Portugal all possible opponents.
However, whilst Smalling admits he is at a loss as to just how he and his team-mates didn’t take maximum points on Tuesday night, he remains confident they will be heading to Brazil next summer. The main reason for this optimism is that three of their four remaining matches are at Wembley, including the visit of Montenegro in September.
“The dressing room was pretty flat afterwards,” he said. “Everyone came in and it was more like a loss than anything after we played so well in the first half. We really dominated and if we had got the second goal, it probably would have been a different game.
“I’m not too sure why the game changed so much. In the first half we passed it really well, we pressed them high, maybe we dropped off a little bit. But a lot of us are not sure why that really happened because we really should have kept it going.
“The manager emphasised that three of the last four games are at home and at Wembley we feel very strong. With the three games at home, we are very confident and, even though the second half was disappointing, we can take a lot from that first half.”
Smalling, meanwhile, acquitted himself well in the two qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro. There were question marks raised against his inclusion due to his relative inexperience at international level, and the fact he has played just 14 times in the Premier League for Manchester United during the current campaign.
However, whilst the match last Friday was nothing more than a practice session, the 23-year-old can be proud of his sixth cap in the Montenegro draw. The former Fulham youngster was pitched against Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic, two of the most feared strikers in Serie A, in Podgorica, yet he never once looked out of place.