Lions hit winning start
Wednesday, 12 October, 2011
A Conor Hunte goal and second-half brace for Mason Bennett see England win.
By James Marshall in Chesterfield
England kicked-off their Victory Shield defence in Chesterfield against Northern Ireland in a confident fashion on Wednesday with a comprehensive victory against Northern Ireland.
It didn't take long for the Young Lions to exert their authority on the game as they nearly took the lead after only a minute on the clock. Local youngster Mason Bennett did well down the right side to tee up a cross for Lewis Cook, who narrowly put his shot wide. England continued to press in possession, but had to be vigilant in the opening ten minutes with Northern Ireland posing a threat on the counter attack with a couple of half chances.
Nevertheless, it was Kenny Swain’s side who opened the scoring with some impressive counter attacking football. Cook showed fantastic skill down the left wing but was upended in the process. Fortunately for England, the referee played an advantage and Bennett continued the attack before sliding a perfect pass through for Conor Hunte, who produced a fine finish past goalkeeper Conor Mitchell with his left-foot.
England looked assured in possession throughout the first half, with Aaron Hayden nearly putting his side two up with a great header from point blank range after a Hunte corner from the left. The Chelsea youngster was certainly unlucky not to score, with Mitchell in the Northern Ireland goal producing a fine save.
Full-backs Josh 'Ola' Aina and Ashley Smith-Brown were a danger all night down England’s flanks and caused Northern Ireland all sorts of problems. Manchester City’s Smith-Brown produced some fine skill down the left, beating three defenders before producing a fine cross for Bennett, who narrowly headed over from close range.
Due to the high intensity of the game, it was a stop-start first 40 minutes with both sides fully committed in every challenge. Captain Jamie Harney had to go off with a head injury for the Irish after bravely defending an English corner and earlier picking up an ankle knock.
England were dealt a blow on the stroke of half time though, with Northern Ireland equalising through Jamie McDonagh. The Linfield youngster took advantage of an unfortunate slip from Connor Ogilvie and rounded Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn to calmly slot home and bring his side right back into the game.
However this didn’t dent England’s confidence, with the home side producing two quick fire goals in the opening seven minutes of the second-half with a brace coming from Bennett. The Derby County striker, who was a threat all night to the Irish with his blistering pace, produced two well taken finishes which stunned their opponents.
The first came through Hunte who turned provider this time to tee up Bennett and he calmly slotted home. Then the second came three minutes later when substitute Seyi Ojo did well down the left hand side before crossing for Bennett to head home his second of the night.
The Mansfield-born ace certainly had a night to remember in front of the 4126 Chesterfield crowd as he was cheered with every touch he made.
Both teams made substitutes throughout the second-half with Ojo, Dan Crowley and Jordan Brown all impressing and Swain fielded four youngsters who were born in the year 1997, the year of Chesterfield’s greatest ever FA Cup run when they were beaten by Middleborough in the Semi-Final.