England survived an early scare to mount an impressive comeback and outclass Montenegro in Podgorica, in a game overshadowed by racist abuse directed at visiting players.
Manager Gareth Southgate gave first starts to youngsters Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi but England were stunned after only 17 minutes when Marko Vesovic gave Jordan Pickford no chance with a precise, curling finish.
The visitors kept their composure to respond emphatically with confidence, class and power by taking maximum points – and 10 goals – from their first two Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Everton defender Michael Keane headed home Barkley’s free-kick for his first international goal on the half hour, before the midfielder turned in Chelsea team-mate Hudson-Odoi’s shot to give them the lead before the break.
Montenegro posed only a fleeting threat and Barkley effectively wrapped up the victory with a powerful finish after determined work by Raheem Sterling on 59 minutes.
England emphasised their vast superiority when Sterling was provider once more for Harry Kane’s simple finish before the Manchester City forward got on the scoresheet himself.
However, the victory was marred by an unsavoury conclusion with Sterling clearly responding to taunts from the home fans in his goal celebration, and Hudson-Odoi having to retrieve an object thrown on to the pitch.
And the Montenegro supporters also directed chants at Danny Rose after the defender was shown a yellow card late on, casting a shadow over another great night for Southgate and his team.
England’s show of strength
England were presented with a test of their confidence and resilience when Montenegro, backed by noisy and passionate support, snatched that early advantage.
While Friday’s 5-0 win over the Czech Republic had been a romp, they now faced a test of their character and ability to respond to such a setback.
The reaction was exactly what Southgate would have demanded as they shrugged off going behind to gather themselves, reassert their authority and then going on to win with ease.
Sterling showed his class as a creator and goalscorer with his 25th goal of the season, while captain Kane has now scored 17 goals in 20 games under Southgate.
Southgate will regard this as another mark of England’s development as they made it 41 European Championship and World Cup qualifiers without defeat since the loss to Ukraine in October 2009.
Barkley’s best England night
Barkley’s career has had periods on hold in recent years and his future has seemed uncertain at club level, never mind for England.
He suffered a serious hamstring injury that required months of recovery before his move from Everton to Chelsea, and he never had the confidence of former Stamford Bridge manager Antonio Conte.
The 25-year-old has had more game time at Chelsea this season and used it to revive his international career, crowned here in Podgorica by arguably his most influential England performance.
It was Barkley’s free-kick that allowed Keane to power home the equaliser, then he was poaching at close range to divert in Hudson-Odoi’s shot as it headed wide.
A thumping finish for England’s third goal capped his personal performance and was fitting reward for a player who must have suffered doubts in the past 18 months as he looks to fulfil his undoubted potential.
England young guns show their class
It was a big night for Rice and Hudson-Odoi as Southgate trusted their talent and temperament in a volatile environment, and both came through with flying colours.
Rice was a steady, mature and composed presence in midfield, while Hudson-Odoi tormented the Montenegro defence once he switched from the right flank to the left, only being denied a goal by a fine save from Danijel Petkovic.
This made it another highly satisfactory night for Southgate and England.
Man of the match – Ross Barkley (England)
‘It was a good test of character’
England manager Gareth Southgate, speaking to ITV: “The game was a simple one in that we talked all week about using the width. Our wingers were incredibly productive on the night. It was a fabulous performance from young Callum Hudson-Odoi. This place has been difficult for us before and it was a good test of character.”
Asked how far Hudson-Odoi can go: “I don’t need to speak about Callum – his performance did that. With young players it’s up to them. You can see the talent. His application with us has been excellent but like any player you have to work hard to improve.”
Asked about suggestions of racist abuse towards some of his players: “I definitely heard abuse of Danny Rose when he got booked at the end of the game. There’s no doubt in my mind that happened and we’ll report it to Uefa. It’s not acceptable.”
Scoring for fun – best of the stats
- England scored five or more goals in consecutive matches for the first time since November 1984.
- England have won five successive games for the first time under Southgate, and it is the first time they have won five in a row since October 2015 under Roy Hodgson.
- Montenegro have won just one of their past six games and drew their opening qualifier against Bulgaria.
- Spurs striker Kane has scored 17 goals in 20 appearances for England under Southgate, 11 more than any other player in that period.
- Sterling has had a hand in seven goals in his past four England games (six goals, one assist), as many as in his previous 31 international appearances
- Barkley’s first goal was the first England goal scored and set up by Chelsea players since September 2007, when Shaun Wright-Phillips netted from Joe Cole’s assist.
- At 18 years 138 days, Hudson-Odoi became the second-youngest male player to start a competitive match for England after Wayne Rooney against Turkey in April 2003 (17 years 160 days).