England survived an early scare to mount an impressive comeback and outclass Montenegro in Podgorica, making it maximum points – and 10 goals – from their first two Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Manager Gareth Southgate gave first starts to youngsters Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi but England were stunned after only 17 minutes when Marko Vesovic gave Jordan Pickford no chance with a precise, curling finish.
The visitors kept their composure to respond emphatically with confidence, class and power.
Everton defender Michael Keane headed home Barkley’s free-kick for his first international goal on the half hour, before the midfielder turned in Chelsea team-mate Hudson-Odoi’s shot to give them the lead before the break.
Montenegro posed only a fleeting threat and Barkley effectively wrapped up the victory with a powerful finish after determined work by Raheem Sterling on 59 minutes.
England emphasised their vast superiority when Sterling was provider once more for Harry Kane’s simple finish before the Manchester City forward got on the scoresheet himself.
However, the victory was marred by an unsavoury conclusion with Sterling clearly responding to taunts from the home fans with his goal celebration, while Hudson-Odoi had to retrieve an object thrown on to the pitch.
And the Montenegro supporters also aimed unsavoury chants in the direction of Danny Rose after he was shown a yellow card late on, casting a cloud over another great night for Southgate and his team.
England’s show of strength
England were presented with a test of their confidence and resilience when Montenegro, backed by noisy and passionate support, snatched that early advantage.
While Friday’s 5-0 win over the Czech Republic had been a romp, they now faced a test of their character and ability to respond to such a setback.
The reaction was exactly what Southgate would have demanded as they shrugged off going behind to gather themselves, reassert their authority and then going on to win with ease.
Sterling showed his class as a creator and goalscorer with his 25th goal of the season, while captain Kane has now scored 17 goals in 20 games under Southgate.
Southgate will regard this as another mark of England’s development as they made it 41 European Championship and World Cup qualifiers without defeat since the loss to Ukraine in October 2009.
Barkley’s best England night
Barkley’s career has had periods on hold in recent years and his future has seemed uncertain at club level, never mind for England.
He suffered a serious hamstring injury that required months of recovery before his move from Everton to Chelsea, and he never had the confidence of former Stamford Bridge manager Antonio Conte.
The 25-year-old has had more game time at Chelsea this season and used it to revive his international career, crowned here in Podgorica by arguably his most influential England performance.
It was Barkley’s free-kick that allowed Keane to power home the equaliser, then he was poaching at close range to touch in Hudson-Odoi’s shot as it headed wide.
A thumping finish for England’s third goal capped his personal performance and was fitting reward for a player who must have suffered doubts in the past 18 months as he looks to fulfil his undoubted potential.
More to follow.