The Tottenham winger combined intelligent passing, willing running and clever positioning in an impressive England debut
Although widely viewed as a cautious coach, Roy Hodgson has not been averse to the occasional surprise selection decision as England manager – for his first competitive match, the 1-1 draw against France at Euro 2012, he picked an 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the wing.
Tonight's selection of Andros Townsend was a similarly bold move. Like Oxlade-Chamberlain Townsend is a ball-carrier, someone who can commit defenders and drive forward in possession, and he turned out to be England's key player on his international debut.
The Spurs youngster was heavily involved in the opening stages as England found themselves trying to break down a well-organised Montenegro side. The visitors remained deep and compact throughout, denying Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard the angles to thread balls into England's front two, and they also managed to restrict the space between the lines. Instead, England had to look wide.
Many of their best first-half moments came from Townsend's charges down the right, particularly when he cut inside to shoot with his favoured left foot, with one resulting rebound hit into the side netting by Wayne Rooney. Townsend's 89% pass completion rate, bettered only by Daniel Sturridge of England's starters, demonstrated his intelligent distribution.
His partnership with the right-back Kyle Walker, honed at Tottenham and cited by Hodgson as one of the reasons for Townsend's selection, also worked well – Townsend positioned himself intelligently to receive passes and always knew Walker would be motoring down the outside. While predominantly picked for their power and pace, the duo didn't run down blind alleys, either – a clever switch to the opposite flank from Walker resulted in a decent Gerrard shot from long range.
Townsend's excellent strike for England's third goal will be his standout memory, but his run down the right for Rooney's opener might have been more significant. Long-range thunderbolts are unlikely to be a recurring event – the Spurs winger has attempted more shots than any other goalless player in the Premier League this season – but his directness down the flank and his measured delivery was precisely why Hodgson selected him.
The nature of the run – collecting the ball on the edge of his own box, before roaring past opponents and releasing the ball 10 yards from the opposition byline – is perfect for this England side. Under Hodgson England rarely dominate possession against top quality opponents, and are yet to excel sufficiently at transitions to be considered a genuine counter-attacking outfit either.
It is unlikely Hodgson would have selected Townsend over James Milner in a game where defensive duties were likely to have greater importance, but if the Spurs man can learn to defend solidly in a second bank of four he could become a key part of Hodgson's plans. To borrow a statistical term from American Football, Townsend consistently gains yards. As a coach who has repeatedly dismissed the modern obsession with possession statistics, Hodgson will value that quality more than many of his contemporaries.