It was a night when England celebrated their football history and threatened to run up an historic scoreline. As the goals flew in during a first-half blitz, embossed by a Harry Kane hat-trick, it felt necessary to check the team’s previous 999 internationals for record scorelines.
The post-war highs were the 10-0 drubbings of Portugal (1947) and the United States (1964) and they looked in peril as Gareth Southgate’s youthful team poured forward from all angles and went into the interval with a 5-0 lead.
The TV cameras picked out Raheem Sterling in the stands, to where he was confined after his lead role in Scratch of the Day – the bust-up on Monday with his teammate Joe Gomez – and there was an unhappy continuation of the controversy after Southgate introduced Gomez as a second-half substitute.
Sterling applauded him on but there were loud boos from some in the 77,277 Wembley crowd. At this point, it is probably worth pointing out that Gomez, who played at right-back, was the victim of Sterling’s attack. It was difficult not to feel sympathy for him.
It was equally hard to read too much into the significance of this result, so woeful were Montenegro. The only mercy was that they tightened up in the second half, although England – for whom James Maddison got on to make his debut – undoubtedly eased up.
What Southgate could enjoy was the cut and thrust of the first-half performance, in which all of his attacking players shone but Kane was the main man, his goals taking his England tally to 31, lifting him clear of Alan Shearer, Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney into sixth on the all-time list.
The marking of the 1000th international consisted largely of a gaggle of former England players being introduced to the crowd at half-time. David Seaman and Wayne Rooney were interviewed on the pitch, together with Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson, as the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Sol Campbell and Tony Adams milled about. It felt pretty low-key. Southgate’s memory will be of a thrashing that confirmed qualification for the Euro 2020 finals next summer.
Southgate had said that his starting XI would be even younger than the lineup he sent out for the landmark win over Spain in Seville last October and it was – by an average of 104 days per man, making it England’s most youthful starting team since 1959. The theme of the evening was history and opportunity had knocked loudly for a clutch of players, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had been the surprise inclusion in the side.
It was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first start for England since March 2018 and, after a season in which he has struggled to break into Liverpool’s best XI in the Premier League, he wasted no time in making his mark. Trent Alexander-Arnold switched the play from right to left and it was Ben Chilwell who dropped in a lovely ball over the Montenegro left-back, Risto Radunovic, for Oxlade-Chamberlain to control before getting the rout started with a sweet low drive.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inclusion ahead of Declan Rice made sense against opponents as limited as Montenegro; he brought attacking balance on the right of Southgate’s midfield three, complementing Mason Mount on the left. With Alexander-Arnold at right-back and Jadon Sancho in front of Oxlade-Chamberlain, England looked mightily potent up the right.