Steven Gerrard admitted England had "stopped playing" in the second half to hand Montenegro a route back into the critical World Cup qualifier and the initiative in Group H as Roy Hodgson's side left the City stadium bemoaning a missed opportunity.
The visitors' initial dominance was surrendered after the interval as Branko Brnovic revamped his front line and the substitute Dejan Damjanovic secured a deserved equaliser 14 minutes from time. The draw leaves Montenegro two points ahead of England at the top of the section, a lead they can open to five points should they defeat Ukraine here on 7 June, with Hodgson's side not due to play competitively again until September.
The frustration was that Wayne Rooney's 26th competitive goal for his country, scored early on, had not proved the prelude to a first notable victory in the group with England failing to add to their lead despite dominating the opening half. "We stopped playing after the break for 20 or 30 minutes and, away from home, you can't afford to do that," said Gerrard. "We stopped passing and they got a deserved equaliser. I think there was lot of experience out there and we showed that in the first half. We controlled the game. But the problem is when you are only 1-0 up you are always vulnerable.
"You've got to go on and get the second goal to get complete control and we never did that. They took control in the second half, apart from the last 10 minutes, so they deserved their draw. But we are still confident we can finish top of the group. We need to win all our games and we certainly need to improve on that second-half performance and play like we did [in the] first half. We need to put that [not having beaten Montenegro, Ukraine or Poland] right. We certainly need to get three points when we go to Ukraine and we'll need perfect results at home against Moldova, Montenegro and Poland."
The statistics backed up the captain's assessment, with England having attempted 105 fewer passes in the second period than their 250 in the first. "We'd had control in midfield initially but we lost that," said Hodgson. "So my overall feeling is one of disappointment because things were looking so good for us at one stage. I don't think it's a particularly bad result because Montenegro are a difficult team to beat but it would have been nice to have built on that lead at half-time and profited from it to go home with three points. But it's still in our hands because we play Montenegro and Poland at home."
The manager had not seen re-runs of the incident that saw Danny Welbeck booked for a dive in the penalty area despite appearing to draw a foul from Stefan Savic when the score was still 1-0. "I don't think Danny would have been wanting to go down in that situation," said Hodgson. "But there were several opportunities in that first half when we got behind their defence and were close to creating an opportunity. When you do that and don't score, you run the risk that a team like Montenegro will come out and play."
Their manager, Brnovic, has now emerged with draws in three brushes with England and suggested his own team were unlucky not to win. "I told my players they had nothing to be afraid of at half-time," he said. "Now, if we beat Ukraine in June, it would virtually guarantee us at least second place in the group, if not first place. And England should remember that, for us, it is a lot easier to play away from home. If we'd had all our players tonight, we would have won this game."
The erratic nature of the visitors' display drew criticism from the former Manchester United midfielder, Roy Keane. "England let you down: you don't get a complete performance and they don't have that killer instinct," said the Irishman, who was working on the game for ITV. "I'd love to know what happened at half-time as England were shocking in terms of concentration. You kill the game off by getting a second and third goal. That is what the top teams do. I can't believe how bad England were in the second half."