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England’s make-shift central defence prompts scorn from Vucinic

A swathe of injury withdrawals has left England likely to start the pivotal Group H World Cup 2014 qualifier at the Podogorica City Stadium tonight with the untried central defensive partnership of Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling. While the Manchester based pair may have rubbed shoulders on the Alderley Edge wine bar circuit, they have yet to spend a single minute on the pitch together in an England shirt.

Montenegro star Mirko Vucinic suggested he saw the Smalling/Lescott axis as “source of weakness” due the pair’s lack of game time for their respective clubs this term – both have managed just 14 Premier League appearances this season. The freshman central defence are 13/5 with Coral to mastermind an England clean sheet.

Lescott is the more experienced of the duo, with 7 international starts to his name. The Three Lions have triumphed in eight of those outings, keeping as many clean sheets and avoiding defeat in all but four. Despite the chiding of Montenegro’s Juventus striker Vucinic, one of Lescott’s clean sheets in an England shirt came against their hosts in a European Championship qualifier.

Smalling’s nascent England career includes four starts so far, three of which were won and two of which saw the Three Lions leave the pitch with their sheets unsullied. Returning from injury in November he has found plenty of game time for Manchester United since the turn of the year, featuring in 10 of their 16 games and contributing to nine one-goal-or-less defensive performances.

Smalling and Lescott’s task will be somewhat less daunting given their hosts’s recent lack lukewarm scoring form. Despite boasting the Serie A goal-getting pair of Vucinic and Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic the young Balkan nation have been redeeming modest returns in front of goal, finding just three at Podogrica when San Marino – whipped 8-0 by England on Friday evening – came calling. Vucinic’s colleagues were also kept sweating until the his 78th minute winner secured Montenegro a 1-0 win in Moldova five days prior.