Chris Smalling could soon become good enough to replace either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic in the Manchester United defence and he’ll give himself the best chance, if he continues to perform the way he did last night.
Smalling was a diamond in the dirt for an England side that had a great opportunity to go to the top of Group H, but ended the match clinging on for dear life just to grab a point.
It was one of the more mature performances that I have seen from Smalling in the recent past and it should give him plenty of confidence heading back to Old Trafford for two key matches within the space of 48 hours this weekend.
The aerial side to Smalling’s game last night was as good as I’ve seen it since he broke into the United first team or the England setup. He literally mopped up everything Montenegro tried to play over the top.
He also didn’t allow them anything from set pieces, crosses and the occasional long throw. There was even one header which came when he was sandwiched between two players and flicked the ball over his own cross bar superbly.
As a defender he may feel responsible for the goal that England conceded but there was literally nothing they could do about that. It was a bit of luck for the home side and had the ball fallen to an England player, they’d have certainly cleared it away.
Don’t get me wrong, Smalling is far from the complete defender at the moment but this experience will do him the world of good and United’s fixture pile up ensures that he’ll have the chance to play a big role in their pursuit of the title.
One area where he did look vulnerable during the second half was when Montenegro tried to pulled the England defenders out of position and rather than hold his space, he kept trying to intercept the ball which left space in behind him to be exploited.
Was it the result England wanted? No, but it certainly could have been a lot worse and the fact the majority of remaining matches are at Wembley gives the team the best chance of securing maximum points from the matches left, which should be good enough to help us win the group.
Smalling has given Roy Hodgson and Sir Alex Ferguson a headache because he’s shown he’s in good form and he’s proven he can play in an atmosphere where the verbal abuse flows freely and the paper balls get thrown with alarming regularity.
What did you make of Smalling’s performance?
image: © Paolo camera