Montenegro warned that riling Rooney may produce wrong effect
Montenegro have been warned that any attempt to provoke Wayne Rooney into another reckless red card tomorrow night could backfire and only inspire the England striker to produce a match-winning performance.
Rooney was banned for the opening two matches of Euro 2012 after being sent off for inexplicably kicking Miodrag Dzudovic when England drew 2-2 with Montenegro on their previous visit to Podgorica's City Stadium in 2011.
With qualification for the World Cup finals next summer potentially resting on the match tomorrow, the expectation is that Montenegro, who lead Group H by two points, will attempt to target Rooney and "wind up" the England players with a series of frustration tactics.
There is confidence within the England camp, however, that Rooney has sufficiently matured in the intervening 17 months to handle what is certain to be an intense and hostile atmosphere.
Joleon Lescott is adamant Rooney has changed since he last played in Podgorica and says that the players will be mentally prepared for the tactics of the Montenegro team. "Sometimes they kick, niggle, time waste – anything to try and frustrate you. I don't think anyone will be fazed by what they have to face. Maybe when Wayne was a bit younger, he had a bit more of a temper in him. But he's older, more mature and experienced in every situation."
Asked if there could be a backlash from Rooney if they did try to wind him up, Lescott said: "The backlash could be just that – it could enhance his performance. On his day, Wayne is one of the best in the world."
England go into the Montenegro game with their confidence boosted by scoring eight goals against San Marino but manager Roy Hodgson is still likely to make as many as six changes to the team.
Glen Johnson, who required ongoing treatment for a toe injury, should replace Kyle Walker at right-back, while Ashley Cole is likely to take the place of Leighton Baines at left-back.
Captain Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick are expected to return in central midfield while the defensive qualities of James Milner and Danny Welbeck could mean that they replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young in the wide positions. (© Daily Telegraph, London)