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Montenegro snatches late draw against England

The English football team’s World Cup qualifying hopes wilted in the face of Montenegro’s fight back.

Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and their England team-mates arrive at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex, their base for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. Picture: AFP

PODGORICA - A Jekyll and Hyde display from England left their World Cup qualifying hopes in jeopardy as Montenegro's tenacious fightback earned the tiny Balkan nation a 1-1 draw which kept them in control of Group H on Tuesday.

Totally in charge before the break after Wayne Rooney's sixth-minute headed goal, Roy Hodgson's side were under siege in the second half and Dejan Damjanovic's 77th-minute leveller produced wild celebrations in the City Stadium.

Favourites England are yet to beat any of the serious contenders in a group which also contains Poland and Ukraine and must make up a two-point gap on Montenegro who continue to punch well above their weight.

With England's qualification campaign now on hold until September, Montenegro, who have 14 points, can stretch their lead to five points if they beat Ukraine at home in June.

"It was a big point for us," Montenegro's Stefan Savic told ITV Sport. "We were a bit afraid early on but we came back and we deserved a point."

England manager Roy Hodgson talked up the result but the reality is his side's only wins have come against San Marino twice and Moldova and they are struggling to put together a consistent 90 minutes.

"Our first half was very good but we didn't start the second half as we liked and that gave Montenegro some encouragement but I thought we hung on well and finished strongly," he told ITV.

"A draw here gives us a chance for the future."

England captain Steven Gerrard was more scathing of a second-half meltdown that turned what looked like a straightforward win into a damaging draw.

"We stopped playing and away from home you can't afford to do that," said Gerrard, who nearly earned his side a dramatic late win with a free kick.

"We stopped passing and they got a deserved equaliser. They took control in the second half apart from the last 10 minutes."

Fourth-ranked England are yet to beat Montenegro, a country with a population of 700,000, in three competitive matches after drawing twice on the way to reaching Euro 2012.

That looked about to change as the visitors, buoyed by an 8-0 hammering of San Marino on Friday, took full advantage of a nervy start by the hosts.