Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner were on target as England triumphed in Milton Keynes.
England 2-0 Bulgaria
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifier
6pm, Friday 16 November 2007
stadium:mk, Milton Keynes
Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner were on target as England’s Under-21s continued their 100% start to their Euro 2009 qualifying campaign with another 2-0 victory over Bulgaria.
Knowing two wins from this week’s double-header would virtually secure a play-off place for the Finals, the Young Lions were determined to take a six point lead to Portugal on Tuesday.
Gabriel Agbonlahor opened the scoring with five minutes left in the first half to warm up the crowd before James Milner converted a penalty in the closing stages to seal the victory at MK Dons' impressive new home.
And not only did they achieve their target of making it five wins in five, they kept yet another clean sheet.
Stuart Pearce’s side had been ravaged by injury in the build up to the game, and it was inevitable he would hand out new caps. Lee Cattermole made his first start in central midfield, while Joe Mattock became the second youngest Under-21 international, after Theo Walcott, at 17 years 185 days old, beginning the game at left-back.
And they were both in the action early. England attacked on either flank, Walcott on the left-hand side seeing plenty of the ball, but it was far from one-way traffic.
Both teams attacked with pace, and while Walcott, Agbonlahor and Milner were the driving force behind England, Bulgaria had Dani Kiki, Valeri Domovchiyski and Nikolay Dimitrov. In fact, they all came close to scoring as the Bulgarians began to get on top of England in central positions.
David Wheater gave possession away on the edge of the area and the ball was moved out to Domovchiyski on the right. He cut inside Mattock and fired in a low shot, but Joe Hart was down well at his post to smother.
Showing an array of step-overs and flicks that would impress Cristiano Ronaldo, Kiki was enjoying his night in Milton Keynes. His shooting wasn’t bad either and when tried his luck from 22-yards, the diving Hart could only watch as it flew past his left post.
England did have their chances too. Matt Derbyshire tested Nikolay Mihaylov, son of former Bulgaria and Reading stopper Borislav, before putting Wheater through, but the Middlesbrough defender’s shot went just wide of the goal.
Craig Gardner also had an opportunity to try one of his, now specialist, free-kicks, but his powerful drive struck the wall and Walcott could only steer the rebound into the crowd.
It was his Villa team-mate Agbonlahor, however, who popped up just before the break to nod home Milner’s left-hand cross at the near post to give England a valuable lead.
No sooner had they gone in front though, Bulgaria twice came close to levelling it. A cross from the left diverted goalwards and was going over the line when Mattock arrived to flick away from danger. Seconds later Domovchiyski was through one-on-one with Hart, but completely scuffed his effort.
Sensing that Bulgaria were getting too much possession, Pearce introduced Fabrice Muamba in place of Derbyshire at half-time as England moved to a five-man midfield. And it proved a wise move as they put their guests onto the back foot.
Within seconds of the re-start, Cattermole on the right clipped in an inch-perfect cross for Walcott between two defenders ten-yards out, but his header drifted wide of the far post.
Walcott was denied again only three minutes later. England attacked down the middle with Milner and as the Arsenal man appeared on the right unmarked, he laid the ball across. Walcott took one touch then shot, but the effort was blocked by Liverpool’s on-loan keeper.
Agbonlahor went off injured, and his replacement, Sunderland’s Grant Leadbitter, was brought on for his debut and his first touch was a goal-bound effort from Milner’s cross. But the second-half was about Walcott.
As much as he would huff and puff, Walcott couldn’t blow the house down. A chance from a Tom Huddlestone cross was diverted over after a neat turn in the area. Then, when he linked up again with Milner, his run was halted as he was upended by Mihaylov. Milner won the debate over who would take the penalty, and despatched it coolly.
Although he wasn’t on the score sheet, he can console himself with the Man of the Match award, and another three points for England.
1 Joe Hart, 2 Craig Gardner, 3 Joe Mattock, 4 Lee Cattermole, 5 Steven Taylor (c), 6 David Wheater, 7 James Milner, 8 Tom Huddlestone (17 Adam Johnson, 85), 9 Matt Derbyshire (15 Fabrice Muamba, 46), 10 Gabriel Agbonlahor (14 Grant Leadbitter, 79) 11 Theo Walcott.
Subs not used 12 Richard Stearman, 13 Ben Alnwick, 16 Andrew Surman, 18 Ishmael Miller.
Goals: Gabriel Agbonlahor 40, James Milner (pen) 81
Bookings David Wheater
1 Nikolay Mihailov (c), 6 Ivan Bandalovski, 13 Atanas Fidanin, 4 Ivan Ivanov, 3 Nikolay Bodurov, 16 Lubomir Bozhinov, 10 Nikolay Petrov (7 Lachezar Baltanov, 86), 18 Vladimir Gadzhev, 19 Nikolay Dimitrov, 15 Dani Kiki (11 Vladislav Mirchev, 76), 17 Valeri Domovchiyski (9 Atanas Kurdov, 89).
Subs Not Used 12 Ilia Nikolov, 5 Velichko Velichkov, 8 Orlin Starokin, 14 Martin Kavdanski.
Bookings Atanas Fidanin, 56; Lubomir Bozhinov, 62
Nationwide Man of the Match Theo Walcott
Officials (all from Belgium)
Referee Luc Wouters
Assistants Mark Simons and Vincent Despiegleer
Fourth Official Philippe Flament
Attendance 20, 222