Lions denied by late leveller
Wednesday, 16 November, 2011
Hallam Hope's opener cancelled out by injury time goal from Slovakia.
England U18s were denied a victory in Nitra by a late equaliser deep into stoppage time from hosts Slovakia on Wednesday afternoon.
It looked as though Noel Blake's Young Lions had done enough to secure victory after Hallam Hope's goal had given them the lead early in the second half, but Slovakia piled on the pressure in the later stages of the game and it took a strike from the impressive Albert Rusnak of Manchester City to level things up just seconds before the final whistle.
Blake will see it as a good exercise for his squad though, with all 18 players getting a decent amount of game time in what is a non-competitive age group at international level.
England were in the driving seat for much of the first half, but chances were at a premium. The midfield were comfortable in possession and looked relaxed as they tried to help the Three Lions carve out an opening. It was from wide areas that they were at their most dangerous, though, and Nathan Redmond was first asking questions on the right hand side, then the left.
Just after the quarter-hour mark he beat his man to the bye-line and clipped a ball in towards the penalty spot. It was just behind Jordan Agbaje, making it tough for the Stoke forward to connect with and the ball looped up invitingly for Jake Caskey arriving late. Unfortunately, he mistimed the volley and it was easy for Slovakia to clear.
Redmond was again the instigator when England forced the first save from Slovakia stopper Matej Vozar. The Birmingham man strode down the left and sent in a cross which deflected off the leg of Slovakian skipper Branislav Ninaj and looped high towards the top corner of the net, but Vozar’s quick footwork and acrobatic dive kept the ball out.
Though Jordan Pickford in the England goal was rarely troubled, thanks in part to the commanding performances of Eric Dier and Adam Jackson in the heart of the defence, it was by no means one way traffic. And when Tyler Blackett slipped on the edge of the area it gave Stanislav Lobotka a chance to capitalise, but the forward froze allowing England to deal with the danger.
And not only that, the ball away found Agbaje on the right and he advanced into the home side’s box, but his angled drive was always rising and sailed over Vozar’s bar.
England made changes at half time and Blair Turgott didn't take long to make his mark on the game with two shots withing moments of the re-start.
It was only three minutes into the second half when they deservedly edged ahead too, as sub Sam Magri's deep cross picked out Agbaje at the far post. He headed back across goal and there was Hope to nod home from close range.
There were further opportunities to add to that goal soon after, with Agbaje shooting over the bar following a centre from Redmond on the hour mark before Hope saw a low shot saved five minutes later.
Midfielder Jordan Lussey also saw an attempt go over the bar following more good work from Redmond on the left.
Slovakia had their best spell of the game from there though and replacement 'keeper Jonathan Sutherland had only been on the field a matter of seconds before he had to save well from Christian Steinhubel's shot.
With Rusnak becoming increasingly lively and the most likely outlet for Slovakia to get back into the game, he was unfortunate to see a low shot fly narrowly wide of the post in the 71st minute before Sutherland turned another of his efforts wide of the target.
He wasn't to be denied in the 92nd minute though, as the ball was cut back to him just inside the area and he swept a low shot past Sutherland and into the bottom corner to ensure a share of the spoils.