Wayne Rooney was sent off as England secured qualification for Euro 2012 after Montenegro fought back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw here Friday.
A last-minute equaliser from substitute Andrija Delibasic grabbed a share of the points for Montenegro after England had taken the lead with goals from Ashley Young and Darren Bent.
The Montenegro fightback was not enough to prevent Fabio Capello's men from earning the point they needed to secure qualification for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine, however.
But England's night was so nearly ruined by Rooney's 73rd minute moment of madness, the Manchester United striker sent off for aiming a needless and petulant kick at Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic.
Rooney's dismissal capped a miserable week following the arrest on Thursday of his father and uncle in connection with a football betting scam.
Montenegro's fans meanwhile celebrated wildly at the final whistle after a result which guarantees them a place in the play-offs.
Capello hoped that Rooney will learn from his latest dismissal.
"He kicked out at the opponent and the red card was OK. He lost the ball and for the next game he will be suspended. So we will try to find a solution," said Capello.
"He is an important player but this will be a good lesson for him and the team. He was just frustrated by what was happening on the pitch and not by anything in his private life."
England captain John Terry shrugged off Rooney's red card.
"It was one of those things. Fortunately it didn't cost us. We are happy because we are through," he said.
England had looked in complete control early on, producing a clinical display of finishing to surge into a 2-0 lead that drew the sting out of the contest.
England had signalled their attacking intent after only two minutes, debutant right back Phil Jones bursting into the box and whipping in a cross which was deflected behind for a corner.
The visitors did not have to wait long before going ahead on 11 minutes. Rooney released Theo Walcott on the right flank and curled a cross to the far post where the unmarked Young stooped to head in for 1-0.
With their noses in front England never looked like relinquishing the lead, and with Gareth Barry and Scott Parker patrolling in front of the back four diligently, Montenegrin chances were few and far between.
The outcome looked as good as settled in the 31st minute with another swift England attack.
Parker retrieved the ball in midfield and fed Rooney, who slipped in Young down the left hand side.
The Manchester United forward had time and space to go it alone but unselfishly crossed to the unmarked Bent for the simplest of tap-ins to make it 2-0 and silence the crowd.
It looked as if England were home and dry but on the stroke of half-time Montenegro produced a goal which hauled them back into the contest.
Fatos Beqiraj found space on the right hand side and crossed into the area for Elsad Zverotic, who chested down and unleashed a low shot that deflected off Gary Cahill's boot beyond the dive of Joe Hart.
The goal energised Montenegro after the interval and the home side had England rocking early in the first half with Beqiraj drawing a smart low save from Hart.
England were made to sweat moments later when Stefan Jovetic was brought down in the box after an ungainly challenge from Jones, only for German referee Wolfgang Stark to wave play on.
Montenegro's fightback was short-lived, however, and England gathered themselves to withstand the pressure.
Capello's decision to stiffen England's midfield, replacing Young with Stewart Downing and Darren Bent with Frank Lampard in a 4-5-1 formation also restored a degree of control.
Yet England's hopes of a serene finish were dashed on 73 minutes when Rooney was dismissed.
Sensing England's vulnerability, Montenegro launched wave after wave of attacks, and England had another penalty scare when Jovetic went over in the box only to be booked for diving.
But on full-time, Stefan Savic curled in a cross from the right and Delibasic was on hand to nod home to spark pandemonium.