Roy Hodgson is eager to avoid the play-off route to Brazil but the England manager accepts nothing can be taken for granted in the scrap for World Cup places.
A certainty is that England remain two points adrift of Wednesday night's opponents in Group H, and will be five behind by the time they play again if Montenegro overcome a dangerous Ukraine outfit in June.
That would leave England, in all probability, having to secure at least three wins and a draw from their final four games in the autumn to secure an automatic World Cup berth without ending up in the hazardous play-offs, that already look set to include Croatia, Portugal and France.
"No-one wants to be in the play-offs but the fact is, in World Cup qualification, one team qualifies," said Hodgson.
"Everyone knows that to qualify as the team that wins the group is that much harder.
"And if you do get in the play-offs, whoever you meet is going to be a good team because there are some groups in which I would suggest there are more than two good sides.
"At the moment I shall focus all my attention on the friendlies in the summer, then I shall work even harder on those important four qualifiers that we have through September and October.
"If, as a result of our performances, we are second in the group, then we will worry about the team we have to qualify against."
The last England manager who failed to qualify for a major tournament, Steve McClaren, was sacked within 24 hours.
Although Bobby Robson is an obvious example of someone who missed out - on Euro 84 - yet remained in his job and went on to enjoy considerable success, it is widely assumed the minimum requirement for Hodgson, whose contract runs to 2016, is to reach Brazil.
"It is not for me to say (what the minimum requirement is)," said Hodgson.
"I care as much about qualifying as anyone else and will try to do the best job I can.
"But I do know my expectations are not going to vary from anybody else's. They are always very high.
"We, as footballers, coaches and fans, want England to qualify for the major tournaments.
"As yet, we have not failed to do so.
"Maybe that question will become a bit more relevant if the day ever comes when we do fail. Until such time as we do fail I prefer to look forward positively and keep working towards our goal."
Whether they qualify or not, it is hard to imagine England ever getting close to securing a major prize unless they learn to shut down games in a manner they were so obviously incapable of in Podgorica.
Rather than push on after the break looking for a second goal, Hodgson's side should have adopted a more limited strategy. The objective should have been preventing their hosts, who were unlikely to be as poor after the break as they had been during a one-sided first half when England were excellent, from building up the head of steam that eventually brought them level.
When Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick failed to achieve it, the logical move was for Hodgson to introduce either Scott Parker or Leon Osman to plug a few gaps.
That Hodgson subsequently said he did not feel anyone on the bench was capable of turning the situation around is a major worry.
There may be opportunities for some to prove him wrong during the post-season friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil, although Hodgson has given every indication of wanting to select his strongest possible squad.
"Those matches are very important," he said.
"Whenever you get a chance to go to play Brazil it is a fantastic match.
"If we qualify for Brazil that will be an invaluable experience.
"We also have a game against Ireland, who are still getting results at Wembley.
"As much as possible, I would like to have the players who are going to help us in September and October available for those matches."
That may yet involve some potential members of Stuart Pearce's squad for the European Under-21 Championships, even if a couple of potential choices, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere, will not be considered.
"The Under-21 team are fine. There are no problems or questions there," said Hodgson.
"We want the Under-21s to do well and would like to give the strongest possible team.
"But it is quite clear that there are certain Under-21 players who are now firmly established in the England A team squad.
"That is where I expect them to stay."