VIDEO: Benik leaves it late
Sunday, 27 May, 2012
A late equaliser from Benik Afove seals a draw for England against an impressive Montenegro side.
By Nicholas Veevers at Spotland
A last gasp goal from Benik Afobe kept England’s Euro hopes alive at Spotland on Sunday night, as an impressive Montenegro side kept the Young Lions at bay and almost secured what would have been a memorable victory and progress to the Finals for them.
Head Coach Noel Blake had warned his squad before the game of the dangers the Montenegrins possessed after studying them in action against Switzerland in their opening game on Friday, and they lived up to his expectations by putting in a thoroughly effective performance on a balmy night in Rochdale.
With a physical presence in defence and the ability to hit England on the break with pace and precision, they impressed everyone in attendance at Spotland and can certainly consider themselves unfortunate not to have taken the three points on this occasion and the group will now be decided on Wednesday evening and the final round of matches.
England’s character and never-say-die spirit shone through in the end though, particularly in the last 20 minutes when a goal became more and more crucial before Arsenal striker Afobe made the breakthrough with just five minutes left on the clock.
Blake’s side had started the game well, looking comfortable across the pitch but for all of their possession in the opening stages, Montenegro always appeared dangerous and sharp on the break and that was what led to the opening goal after 25 minutes. Their impressive captain Marko Vukcevic had looked dangerous right from the start on the right flank and when he nicked the ball off Jack Robinson and broke inside, his powerful left-footer gave Sam Johnstone no chance as it flew past him and into the top corner.
England perked up a little after that and had a fair chance to equalise seven minutes later, as George Thorne’s in-swinging corner picked out Eric Dier in the area but his glancing header drifted narrowly wide of the post.
Nathaniel Chalobah then stung the hands of Montenegrin ‘keeper Daniel Petkovic with a low shot from 25 yards, as the Young Lions looked to find a way back into the match but there was to be no breakthrough made before half-time.
Blake responded at half-time by making two changes, introducing both Will Keane and Jack Dunn in place of Pat Bamford and Ross Barkley, but if anything, Montenegro came even more to the fore in the second half.
Another of their star performers, Milos Kalezic, whose passing and movement was proving a constant thorn in England’s side, struck a low shot inches wide of the post after a nifty turn in midfield and then Dejan Zarubica headed wide of the post from Hasan Pepic’s pacy corner.
The additional introduction of Harry Kane from the bench gave England a further boost up front and the Spurs man didn’t take long to get in the thick of the action, trying his luck with a 25-yarder to earn yet another corner.
Chalobah then picked out Will Keane in the area, but his shot was well saved by Petkovic and then another quick succession of passes ended with the ball at Dunn’s feet. His low left-footer was caught by Petkovic, low to his left, as England began to assert a little pressure whilst also trying to avoid being caught on another counter attack.
The equaliser finally came with just five minutes remaining though, as Todd Kane’s long throw-in was flicked on by Dier and Afobe managed to control, spin and fire home from seven yards out to give England a valuable point and ensure the Elite Qualifying Round will go down to the final game.