England manager Roy Hodgson makes the right noises for Montenegro match

Manager has almost a full complement to choose from and warns of heartache as race for Wembley starting places hots up

That was some speech from Roy Hodgson, leaning forward in his seat at England's team hotel, refusing point-blank to allow even a flicker of negativity to infiltrate his mood, and probably striking just about the right tone if the intention was to sound absolutely convinced everything was about to fall into place.

"Bring the game on," he said. "The game can't come quickly enough. We're ready for it. We believe in ourselves, we trust in each other. We have the right determination, the right motivation. We're looking at one game. We'll go out and win that. And when we've won that, we'll look at the next one. And we'll be equally determined to win that one, too. It's Wembley, we're England, we have good players, and I believe the players will deliver."

In black and white, they are the kind of words that could have been lifted straight from the Kevin Keegan manual of tub-thumping. From Hodgson, it felt different. England, he said, will beat Montenegro. Training has gone well over the last few days. Hodgson said he had been lifted by their performances and for the first time in a long time it is the other side who have been badly undermined by injuries and withdrawals. "If the game was now, we'd be fantastic with that," Hodgson said. "We've had a great few days. All that's left is to get out on the field now."

England's manager does not normally talk like this and, at times, it seemed like a wilful effort to manipulate the headlines and disperse some of the foreboding that never seems to be far away with this team. There will always have to be caution when the only sides England have beaten so far in Group H are Moldova and San Marino, but Hodgson's strategy was a wise one if the intention was to sound as confident as possible and convey that message to a wider audience. The last thing he will want is for the crowd to lack belief when it is so important his players are inspired by playing at Wembley, rather than held back, as we have seen so many times before.

With all due respect to Rickie Lambert, he was elevated from his usual position as fifth or sixth-choice striker for the goal-less draw in Ukraine because so many other players were missing. This time Hodgson has about as strong a squad as he could have dared to imagine. So strong, in fact, there is a feeling within the camp that Jack Wilshere might not even make the cut.

Someone will have to drop out in midfield if Hodgson opts for 4-2-3-1, with Wayne Rooney operating just behind Daniel Sturridge, and it will not be Steven Gerrard, on the night the England captain matches Bobby Charlton's total of 106 caps. Frank Lampard was initially considered the odd one out but Wilshere has had a difficult couple of weeks, for various reasons, and Hodgson has been giving it close thought. It was, he said, the hardest selection process he had faced, acknowledging he might have to "break hearts". The squad is "stronger, on paper, than we have been for a long while".

That is not such a bad thing, though, when he has the opportunity to bring together two of the Premier League's in-form strikers. On the one hand, it can seem slightly odd that so much faith is placed in the Rooney-Sturridge partnership when, so far, it has been restricted to 33 minutes. Yet the two have started the season with such distinction it is not misplaced to believe they should hit it off.

Montenegro, meanwhile, seem considerably weaker than when the two sides drew 1-1 in Podgorica in March. "It looks like it on paper," Hodgson said. "Their form's not been as good. I would be surprised if they didn't consider their second-half performance against us as their best in qualification. But I went to see them play against Ukraine [losing 4-0 at home] and they didn't play nearly as well."

Mirko Vucinic's absence is the equivalent of England losing Rooney. Stevan Jovetic is barely fit and, beyond those two, the leading scorer is Andrija Delibasic, a 32-year-old striker for Rayo Vallecano, with six goals. Without wishing to fall into the classic trap, England should not be accused of arrogance to think they can beat this team.

"We've got 93 minutes, or whatever it is after injury time, and it's important our tempo is high," Hodgson said. "We don't want to waste time. We've talked quite a lot about this. We want the ball back in play as quickly as possible. We want the goalkeeper getting the ball and throwing it back out, so we get as many attacks as we can."

The danger then is that Montenegro will be operating on the counter-attack, so Hodgson always wants a minimum of five players behind the ball. Yet the emphasis will be to press forward, with Danny Welbeck and James Milner likely to start on the wings and Rooney and Sturridge interchanging positions. Rooney, amid his claims about why he wanted to leave Manchester United last season, spoke this week with what seemed like a renewed sense of enthusiasm, while Gerrard's analysis of Sturridge's form for Liverpool should be another source of encouragement.

"He's even better than I thought," Gerrard said. "I'd seen all the games at Chelsea and flashes of what he could do at Manchester City, but he's been brilliant at Liverpool. He's different, razor sharp, great technique and he can score any kind of goal. Confident, but not arrogant or flash. He just has a lot of belief in his own ability."

There is still the Joe Hart issue, with a whole heap of pressure on the goalkeeper, but Hodgson did the right thing backing him so quickly after his mistakes for Manchester City against Bayern Munich. In addressing it head-on, Hodgson spared Hart a longer debate about whether he might be left out. Hart was not mentioned once at the press conference, allowing the England manager to keep the mood as upbeat as possible. He will just have to hope it is the same after the match.

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