PODGORICA (Reuters) - After what amounted to a gentle warm-up in San Marino, England move into the far more hostile territory of Montenegro for a vital World Cup qualifier on Tuesday with captain Steven Gerrard warning of intimidation from the Group H leaders.
The first time England played in Podgorica’s City Stadium in 2011, Wayne Rooney was sent off in a 2-2 draw, a red card that meant he missed the start of the Euro 2012 finals.
While that result meant England qualified for last year’s championship, their place at the Brazil World Cup is still far from assured as they trail Montenegro by two points.
England will be favorites to emerge with a victory that would put them in charge of their own destiny, but Gerrard knows calm heads will be needed to avoid a damaging setback.
“It is going to be a pressure situation and we don’t need to give the referee any excuse to send any of us off or give any unnecessary yellow cards,” Gerrard told the English FA’s website (www.thefa.com).
“It is important everyone takes responsibility and stays on the pitch. They will be trying to claim every decision, every foul and will try to intimidate the ref to make rash decisions.
“I’m sure we will have a good ref in charge who will make sensible decisions but it’s important we keep our cool and keep everyone on the pitch.”
England warmed up for the match with an 8-0 stroll in San Marino on Friday when Montenegro sneaked a 1-0 win in Moldova despite having Milorad Pekovic sent off, meaning he will be suspended for Tuesday’s match.
The atmosphere in San Marino was about as harmless as it was possible to be for an away side but Gerrard believes England will be able to cope when things hot up.
“I think their supporters will make it as hostile as they can,” said the Liverpool midfielder, who was rested for the match in San Marino along with several other key players such as Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson.
“They are desperate to beat us and everything is against us, but I think we’ve got the players in the squad to go and handle the situation and get the three points.”
It will be a stern test, especially for England’s patched-up central defense against Montenegro’s Italy-based strikers Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic.
Juventus striker Vucinic, who scored the only goal in Moldova, said the victory had given his side the perfect boost ahead of England’s arrival.
However, far from flying out of the traps on Tuesday, he said the hosts would play a waiting game.
“We have to park the bus in front of our goal and keep possession as long as we can when we have the ball,” he told Podgorica daily Vijesti.
“We took a huge amount of weight off our shoulders by beating the Moldovans. The match against England is one of those you crave but we must quickly come down to earth and be ready to leave it all out there and stand our ground.”
England are set to recall Gerrard, Cole and Johnson with James Milner also a likely starter, but manager Roy Hodgson’s chief concern will be in the centre of his defense.
Hodgson had hoped Rio Ferdinand would be playing in Podgorica but after the Manchester United player’s decision to pull out of the squad, together with injuries to several other centre backs, England will be lacking experience.
Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott, bit-part players at Manchester United and Manchester City, are expected to start.
Hodgson believes they are more than capable.
“Let’s also show some respect for the young (Chris) Smalling and the not so young but well tried and tested Joleon Lescott because Joleon Lescott’s at Manchester City, the champions of England; Chris Smalling plays for Manchester United,” Hodgson said in the Sunday Telegraph.
“I’m not exactly putting a couple of guys from non-league football out on the pitch on Tuesday night and I think we should show them a bit more respect - and not constantly compare them.”
Hodgson is hopeful that right back Johnson will be able to play despite a painful toe that may need an injection.
Montenegro will miss four regular starters against England - midfielders Nikola Drincic and Branko Boskovic are out with injuries while Savo Pavicevic joins Pekovic in being suspended.
Coach Branko Brnovic echoed Vucinic, saying: “We will miss them badly but we can still put together a team good enough to stand their ground against the English.
“We will park the bus in front of our goal and look for any opportunity to catch them on the break. If a Ferrari comes blazing out of that bus and we score first, it will be a totally different game.”
Montenegro: Mladen Bozovic; Vladimir Bozovic, Stefan Savic, Marko Basa, Vladimir Volkov; Elsad Zverotic, Mitar Novakovic, Simon Vukcevic, Dejan Damjanovic; Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic
England: Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, Joleon Lescott, Chris Smalling, Ashley Cole; James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Additional reporting by Martyn Herman and Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Mark Meadows