London - Steven Gerrard responded to Montenegro’s dirty tricks by ordering England’s senior players to keep their cool in Tuesdday night’s World Cup qualifier or risk blowing their last chance of success.
On a day when Montenegro tried to provoke England by branding them a long-ball team, Gerrard stressed the importance of getting the job done before time runs out for the old guard - including 27-year-old Wayne Rooney - to make an impact on the biggest stage of all.
‘For the likes of me, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, who’s getting on a bit now, time is moving on and we still want to achieve something with England,’ said Gerrard, 32, who will lead his country out against the Group H leaders.
‘It’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves and start thinking about Brazil - we’ve got to get there first.’
Rooney was sent off in this fixture two years ago and Montenegro’s players have been threatening to wind up the striker again.
Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic piled on more pressure yesterday by calling England a ‘long-ball’ team who were ‘running scared’.
But Gerrard said: ‘With regard to Brnovic’s comments it shows we’ve got them exactly where we want them. They seem to be more interested talking, but that doesn’t win you football matches.
‘It’s vital to keep our cool otherwise you end up getting sent off. Wayne will remember what happened two years ago and he will want to make amends. I think he’ll perform well.’
England trained last night on a pitch that rapidly deteriorated after thunderstorms. They avoided Monday morning’s earthquake but there were severe weather warnings posted last night.
Manager Roy Hodgson has a fully fit squad and he used the hour-long training session to work on a number of systems. At one stage he had Leighton Baines at left back ahead of Cole, but it would be a surprise if he got the nod.
Hodgson also defended England’s approach after Brnovic’s comments. England are two points behind Montenegro but in good shape after Friday’s 8-0 victory over San Marino, and Hodgson said: ‘I don’t really care too much if people want to label it long-ball or short-ball.
‘We play the football we believe will win football matches. I trust the referee and the match commissioner to make the right decisions.’
Rooney missed the first two games of Euro 2012 after he was sent off here two years ago when Fabio Capello was manager.
Hodgson insists he will not talk specifically with Rooney ahead of the game, but will address the issue of team discipline in his pre-match meeting.
He added: ‘I trust that he will go out and play like Wayne Rooney, but you are talking about something that is in the realms of psychology. He is a key player and that’s a responsibility people like Wayne and Steven Gerrard have to bear.
‘Every time they go into a game it is not just the coaching staff and the players around them, it is the whole nation expecting to see a top performance from those players.
‘I have a lot of sympathy but I have a great deal of trust as well because I know their focus and desire to do well is as strong as it could possibly be.
‘But as human beings I cannot guarantee that they won’t fail sometimes. We are not talking about robots and no matter how good you have been in the past it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be good in the future.’