Gerrard demands discipline ahead of England's real test
Steven Gerrard has urged his England team-mates to "take responsibility" and maintain their discipline as they focus on the daunting prospect of Tuesday's trip to Montenegro, with the squad braced for a hostile occasion against the Group H leaders in Podgorica.
While Friday's riotous dismissal of San Marino served to whet the appetite within Roy Hodgson's party ahead of the trickier of the two World Cup qualifying ties, there is an acceptance that the dismissal of the joint worst-ranked international team in world football hardly provided many pointers for the collision to come. Gerrard was rested in Serravalle and will return in what could amount to up to six changes to the visitors' starting line-up in the City Stadium as England seek a victory that will propel them back to the top of the section.
"The hard work starts now," said Gerrard. "Friday night was all about being professional, getting three points on the board and trying to entertain, and the lads did that. But everyone knew, with these two fixtures, the most important one is Tuesday night. That will be a much tougher test because they're a really good team with a much better standard of players [than San Marino].
"They have some world-class individuals if you look at [Stevan] Jovetic and [Mirko] Vucinic, so we know it will be a much tougher game. We'll be expecting a real cauldron over there. Their supporters will make it as hostile as they can. We're used to playing in front of bigger crowds, but these are the type of atmospheres where they try to intimidate us.
"It's similar to when we played Andorra and then travelled out to Croatia [fixtures that were won in 2008 under Fabio Capello]. Any time you are away from home in these countries, when England are in town the supporters are up for it. They will be desperate to beat us. So everything's against us, but we've got the players to handle the situation and get the three points.
"Everyone has to take responsibility. We have to keep 11 men on the pitch because it's going to be a pressure situation and we don't want to give the referee any excuse to send any of us off. We want to make a statement."
That warning is all the more pertinent given events the last time England visited Podgorica, in their final qualifying fixture ahead of Euro 2012.
Wayne Rooney was dismissed that night for a petulant kick at the home defender Miodrag Dzudovic, which led to the striker's suspension for the first two games of last summer's finals. The red card, in October 2011, had come with Rooney unsettled by the arrest of his father in an investigation into alleged betting irregularities, for which he was eventually cleared, with the player later apologising for his mistake and seeing his ban cut from three to two games.
England had been leading 2-1 when the striker was sent off, with Andrija Delibasic registering a late equaliser. "Everyone knows how hostile it will be, but I'm sure the manager will be reminding everyone [to stay calm]," said Gerrard.
"Especially in front of a hostile crowd, one challenge can change the course of a game. They'll be trying to claim every decision, every foul and they'll be trying to intimidate the ref into making rash decisions. But I'm sure we'll have a good referee in charge who makes good decisions. It's a massive game and we have to make sure we take the three points and take control of the group."
England, who travel to Montenegro tomorrow, are hopeful of welcoming back Gerrard's Liverpool club-mate Glen Johnson after he sat out Friday's turkey shoot in Serravalle with a recurrence of the toe complaint that dogged him at the European Championships. The right-back may yet require a pain-killing injection.
"He could have played and we could even have had him on the bench," said Hodgson. "But it would have meant an injection and I preferred him to maintain his course of treatment. This way he didn't have to put on a boot.
It just gave us a couple more days. We hope it'll get better but, if it doesn't, he'll need an injection to play. But there's no real problem."
Hodgson is expected to replace both his full-backs from Friday, with Ashley Cole and Johnson restored to the starting line-up, as well as introducing Gerrard and potentially Michael Carrick into central midfield. James Milner and Danny Welbeck will also push for starts with the centre-halves Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling set to resume the partnership blooded on Friday.
Rio Ferdinand's absence was not felt then but could be against Branko Brnovic's side with the Manchester United centre-half, who had withdrawn from the squad last week but worked as a pundit for al-Jazeera in Doha, having been the focus of angry chants from England's travelling support.
"I think the fans have shown their frustration about Rio not being here," said Gerrard. "They're entitled to their opinion, they pay good money to come over here. We all wanted Rio here because he's a good player and would have helped us over these two games. But he made his decision and we have to respect that."