Monday 25 March 2019 10:37 pm

Montenegro 1-5 England: Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling star but five-star visitors’ win marred by reports of racism

I am a sports writer at City A.M, covering primarily football and cricket. Get in touch:

I am a sports writer at City A.M, covering primarily football and cricket. Get in touch:

Follow Felix
For so long Ross Barkley has been defined by his potential, rather than his output for England. Tonight in Montenegro he finally delivered.

It’s been a productive 2019 for the central midfielder, with his January 2018 transfer from Everton to Chelsea now paying off with a sustained run in Maurizio Sarri’s side.

And after an impressive cameo off the bench in England’s 5-0 thrashing of Czech Republic at Wembley on Friday the 25-year-old was given the chance by Gareth Southgate from the start in Podgorica. He grabbed it with both hands, doubling his international goal tally in his 27th appearance.

But while his two goals in a crushing 5-1 win were well-taken – a close-range volleyed tap-in and sweeping finish from 10 yards – there was much more to his performance.

Barkley’s instinctive drive at the back four, ability to up the pace in a flash and pick a dangerous pass are exciting qualities which were all on show.

Indeed, it was his free-kick which landed on the head of Michael Keane to make it 1-1 and his through-ball which released Raheem Sterling for Harry Kane’s goal – England’s fourth on a night full of positives in the early stages of Euro 2020 qualifying.

No nerves for Hudson-Odoi

Barkley didn’t quite steal the show, but that’s not a slight on his performance – more a comment on the number of impressive displays in a second consecutive Three Lions mauling.

It was Barkley’s Chelsea team-mate who had tongues wagging before kick-off and Callum Hudson-Odoi didn’t disappoint after becoming England’s second youngest starter in a competitive match, behind Wayne Rooney.

After showing defensive naivety by failing to contest a header in the build-up to Marko Vesovic’s fortunate but well-taken opener for the hosts, the 18-year-old showed his ability at the other end.

Brimming with confidence, Hudson-Odoi set about terrorising his opponent every time he received the ball, threatening twice before cutting inside to shoot and inadvertently providing an assist for Barkley’s first.

With Jadon Sancho also integrated into the set-up the future looks bright for England’s vibrant attack.

Rice adds further depth

The other player with eyes on him was West Ham’s Declan Rice, who was drafted into midfield for a first start in place of Eric Dier.

The 20-year-old looked assured on his first outing, with his positional sense helping him frequently mop up possession in front of the England defence.

He may have been overshadowed by his offensive team-mates and his passing might not be of the same calibre of Southgate’s other options yet, but it was a promising introduction for Rice.

Southgate has always been willing to give opportunities and on recent evidence his fast-tracking of young talent is going to add further depth to an already quality squad.

Sterling the man

While the focus was understandably on new faces, as the game wore on it was England’s main man who added gloss to the score-line.

With the score 2-1 at half-time and Montenegro far from down and out the match could have been allowed to drift, but with Sterling on the form of his life that was never going to happen.

The Manchester City forward’s cut-back was deflected into the path of Barkley to make it 3-1 before Sterling raced onto the Chelsea man’s defence-splitting pass to square for Kane’s goal.

Having laid on goals for his team-mates Sterling then repeated the trick, accepting Jordan Henderson’s through-ball before burying England’s fifth to make it six goals and one assist in his last four appearances.

Racist chanting mars occasion

After such a positive win it was depressing that the post-match was dominated by reports of racist abuse directed at England’s black players.

Rather than commenting on his full England debut Hudson-Odoi was forced to speak out against the appalling actions of the Montenegro crowd.

“When you’re hearing stuff like that from the fans, it’s not right. It’s unacceptable and hopefully Uefa deal with it properly,” Hudson-Odoi told beIN Sports.

“Me and Rosey [Danny Rose] heard it. They were saying monkey stuff. We have to just keep our heads and keep a strong mentality.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that happened and we’ll report it to Uefa,” added manager Southgate. “It’s not acceptable.”