There was a Davis Cup feel to this match, as if England had tumbled so far down the world rankings that they were battling for readmission to the 'elite group.'
This is not to understate Montenegro's achievements from a modest population base.
But it was salutary to see the home of the world's richest league having to treat a scrap against a small Balkan state as a Friday night take-the-phone-off-the-hook prime-time spectacle.
At the heart of it all were not just the ancient rhythm section of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, a potentially wobbly goalkeeper in Joe Hart and the debutante winger, Andros Townsend, but the embodiment of managerial common sense, Roy Hodgson, who, as one commentator pointed out, was on the brink of the cusp of a precipice leading up to these vital two World Cup qualifiers.
Hodgson was on the turf where Steve McClaren's reign ended soggily with the failure to qualify for Euro 2008, and where Graham Taylor and Bobby Robson would be heckled and even spat at as they left the field.
Britain's security state accords more protection to England managers these days, but the ambush is inescapable.
Nowadays ridicule descends like boiling oil from the mass democracy of social media, where Hodgson got into his first proper spat, with Gary Lineker, after the former England striker called the team "awful" in Kiev.
That rift was healed in the Match of the Day studio, but the England manager still spent much of the build-up to Friday fright night being told there would be no hiding place for him if the team failed to qualify for the Brazil World Cup.
Throughout his time in a job his generation still regards as the ultimate honour, Hodgson has fought off the charge of conservatism and caution. Criticism of his reign baffles him.
To him, England have been doing a tidy job in this campaign, amassing points like a gardener raking up autumn leaves, and putting on the Ritz only when completely necessary.
How could anyone argue with England topping the group with two home games to go? The answer, in Kiev, certainly was: performance.
England have been stolid and stale at times in this group: profligate with the ball and lacking in sparkle. But nobody could dispute the stated aim of qualifying by any means necessary.
Besides, Hodgson laced his team with sufficient attacking talent here to beat a depleted Montenegro side, who looked less threatening on the wide acres of Wembley than they did in the cauldron of Podgorica. With Daniel Sturridge at centre-forward, Wayne Rooney in behind and Townsend and Danny Welbeck wide, England could not say the side was built for containment.
Responsibility was thus transferred from the dugout to the pitch.
Hodgson was not the issue.
The only question on a damp-dog, traffic-blighted night was: are these players good enough to prevail over three Eastern European rivals on the road to Rio?
England's early shooting certainly lacked the precision and coolness of World Cup contenders. Welbeck, especially, thrashed at the ball: a sign, usually, that his general touch is off.
Sturridge was also lifting the ball high and wide. England's best chance, fired low, followed an arrowing run from Townsend, whose confidence and directness compensate for his sometimes suspect first touch.
Townsend's running, though, expresses a strong core of confidence as well as a desire to take opponents on.
The Premier League's most prolific dribbler, the young Tottenham winger covered three-quarters of the pitch and dropped his shoulder beautifully to bamboozle an opponent on the halfway line for England's opening goal.
The cross from Townsend was no better than average but it found its way to Welbeck and then to Rooney to finish with a cool swivel and prod.
Hodgson's gamble in selecting Townsend ahead of James Milner was a resounding success. He offered thrust and menace down Montenegro's left side and soon became the focus of England's incursions.
His inclusion said that England were going to return Montenegro to minor nation status in a stadium that cost pounds 757?million but has seldom felt like a fortress.
There are nights when Frank Lampard looks his age, with his movements across the ground, and this was one. Too often the play seemed to pass him by.
But England's front four were presenting Branko Brnovic's team with enough challenges for the rear of England's side to appear comfortable, and Montenegrin weariness played a part when Branko Boskovic turned the ball into his own net on 61 minutes from a Welbeck cross.
Hodgson allowed himself a punch of the air and a semi-hug with his staff.
The threat of an ignominious end to England's efforts to join the party in Brazil was receding. To reach Rio with two authoritative wins would be transformative, not least for Hodgson himself, who could escape the hanging jury doubts about his management.
A goal for Dejan Damjanovic on 71 minutes turned the momentum of constant England attacking, and Hodgson's men were back on their qualifying wheel of fire, until Townsend embellished a fine debut with an out-swinging shot from the edge of the Montenegro penalty box. Sturridge's late spot kick completed the rout.
Boldness was rewarded.