Montenegro criticism playing into England's hands, says Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has dismissed Branko Brnovic's pre-match criticisms of England and suggested the Montenegro coach's comments actually revealed the visitors have their hosts "right where we want them", with the locals perturbed by the size of the task ahead.

The Liverpool captain will return to the starting line-up on Tuesday with Roy Hodgson expected to make up to six changes to the side which trounced San Marino last Friday as they seek to return to the top of Group H at Montenegro's expense. While the manager was more cautious when addressing Brnovic's frank assessment, Gerrard spied encouragement in the observations as he and England's other senior players seek to make their quality tell.

"With those comments it just shows we've got them exactly where we want them," said Gerrard. "They seem to be more interested in saying things and doing all the talking. But talking doesn't win you football matches. I'm not really too interested in what they've had to say in their press conference. I'm more interested in how the lads train at the ground on the night before the game and when the first whistle goes in the match itself.

"We're taking big strides forward as a team. We've learned a lot from the Italy game in the Euros [quarter-final]. There's still a lot of work to do but we will get there. We all spoke about keeping the ball better after that tournament, that we'd not been good enough in possession against Italy. We didn't have the ball for long periods that night and that's why they could mount attacks on our goal so often. At this level you've got to be better in possession and keep them away and our possession stats have improved a lot since then.

"But, to be honest, we won't be where we want to be with this manager in charge until we get to a major tournament and beat a top side, in the last eight. It's important we don't get ahead of ourselves and start thinking about Brazil. We've got to get their first. There are some big obstacles to get over first, starting with this game. The likes of me, Ashley [Cole], Frank [Lampard], Rio [Ferdinand], even Wayne [Rooney], who's getting on a bit now, all sense that time is moving on and we still want to achieve something with England."

Hodgson trained with a full squad at the City stadium on Monday night having made a brief trip to the arena earlier in the evening to check up on the pitch, which had recovered well from a heavy thunderstorm that struck Podgorica on Monday afternoon.

The management were encouraged by the state of the turf, though it rained again heavily overnight which will have prompted some concern. They will still need to check on Glen Johnson's fitness ahead of the qualifier, the Liverpool full-back having sat out Friday's win in Serravalle with a recurrence of a toe infection.

Should he prove his fitness, then the main selection issue appears to centre upon whether Hodgson recalls Danny Welbeck or retains Ashley Young on the left of an attacking trident. If both feature, Tom Cleverley could drop out of the starting line-up for the first time this season.

Rooney, dismissed for kicking Miodrag Dzudovic in the 2-2 qualifying draw here back in October 2011, will start with Gerrard confident he will be galvanised by memories of that red card. "I think it'll have the opposite effect on Wayne," added the captain. "He'll remember what happened to him two years ago and he'll want to make amends. I think he'll perform well."

Powered by article was written by Dominic Fifield in Podgorica, for The Guardian on Monday 25th March 2013 23.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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