England have booked their place at Euro 2009 after a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Wales at Villa Park.
Tom Huddlestone 14, Sam Vokes (og) 35
Aaron Ramsey 24, Simon Church 29
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Play-Off Second Leg
7.45pm, Tuesday 14 October 2008
Villa Park, Aston Villa FC
Live on Setanta
England Under-21s have booked their place in next summer's UEFA European Championship Finals following a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Wales, seeing them through 5-4 on aggregate.
The Three Lions were pushed all the way by a Welsh side who didn't give up. Tom Huddlestone had handed England an early lead, before later seeing red, but Aaron Ramsey and Simon Church put Wales ahead.
However, at the end of a lively 20-minute spell in the first half, Sam Vokes' own goal gave England the draw they needed and spelled the end of Wales' challenge.
Stuart Pearce kept faith in the side that started in Cardiff, despite having Andrew Taylor, Martin Cranie and Fabrice Muamba back in the reckoning.
Unlike Friday, it was England who began the game the stronger, forcing Wales deeper with their sustained possession. Jamie O’Hara had a try from range, while Gabriel Agbonlahor almost latched onto Taylor’s downward header inside the six-yard box. But it wasn’t long before The Three Lions took a firm grasp of the match.
Adam Johnson, a thorn in the Welsh right-hand side on Friday, was back to his mischievous self. Cutting in from the left past Ramsey, the Arsenal youngster made an attempt at the tackle, but mistimed his challenge and sent the winger sprawling on the edge of the area.
While Wales were preparing their wall for the free-kick in front of a packed Holte End, Tom Huddlestone stroked the ball low around the wall and beyond the unsighted Owain Fon Williams to give the Welsh a mountain to climb.
Wales were being restricted to chances from distance, and rarely troubled Joe Hart. Church’s low shot was easy for the Manchester City stopper, while Andy King’s try was high and wide, if not handsome. But what certainly was handsome arrived on the 24th minute from the left boot of Ramsey.
He caught his strike sweetly from 25 yards, sending it arrowing into the top corner of Hart’s net and so began their ascent.
Within five minutes they were in front, and level on aggregate. Ramsey's goal had spurred him into life and now, full of confidence, he was beginning to get behind the England midfield to attack the back four. It was his pass through the defence that laid the ball on a plate for Church and he applied a deft chip over Hart to register his third goal of the tie.
The goal prompted Pearce into a change and on came Muamba, replacing Lee Cattermole, to give the back four some protection from Ramsey.
Soon England were back on level terms and, as with the first leg, their strength from set-pieces was evident. When O’Hara swung in a free-kick from deep on the left, Steven Taylor rose to head back across the goal. The ball struck the hand of Vokes, who was back from senior team duty at the weekend, and was diverted into the net.
Agbonlahor’s swivel and shot on the edge of the area almost put England back in the lead a minute later, but as much as the Holte End wanted it to go in, the ball drifted wide.
That was the Villa man’s last opportunity as he didn’t return in the second half. Instead Fraizer Campbell came on to the slick pitch after a half-time downpour.
England pushed forward, now with Campbell as the spearhead. Crosses from either flank asked questions of Williams, then James Milner’s left foot drive in his record 40th appearance for the Under-21s took two attempts for the Stockport County keeper to claim safely.
The Three Lions were reduced to ten men on 66 minutes, when goal scorer Huddlestone was shown a straight red card for a foul on Darcy Blake. Closing down a loose ball, the Spurs midfielder slid to challenge Blake, and while he didn’t get the ball, he caught the Cardiff City defender late. A foul, and one which Dutch referee Kevin Blom deemed worthy of a sending off.
The man advantage gave Wales fresh impetus, knowing one goal would take the game into extra-time. Jack Collison delivered in an inviting cross from the left, which was waiting for a touch to divert goalwards, while Rhoys Wiggins put a couple of teasing balls in from the left. However, none received the attention they craved and amounted to nothing.
Meanwhile, England were sitting deeper, content to keep possession of the football without forcing anything. When an opportunity arose for them to spring to life, they lifted the pace. Mark Noble’s run carved open the defence, but his shot was weak from the edge of the area.
Then, seconds later, Campbell was given a real chance to stretch his legs as a forward ball beat the Welsh rearguard. As he ran into the area, he tried to go around Blake, who stood firm, sending Campbell to the ground and the ball rolled safely to Williams.
And there were hearts in England’s mouths with five minutes left on the clock. Vokes, looking to make up for his own goal, found time to turn 25 yards out. His low, left-foot drive was good, beating Hart’s dive, but struck the foot of the post. The rebound fell nicely to Michael Mancienne, who coolly dealt with the danger.
With Wales desperate for a goal, England were not risking anything going forward. When they did, they headed for the corner to play out the final seconds of injury time and when the whistle went for full-time, it was greeted with cheers of relief as much as delight.
After steamrolling their group, England’s passage to Sweden was made extremely difficult by a plucky Wales side, but it’s Stuart Pearce and his men who’ll be getting their passports out ready for 15 June.
1 Joe Hart, 2 David Wheater, 3 Jamie O’Hara, 4 Lee Cattermole (15 Fabrice Muamba, 31), 5 Steven Taylor (c), 6 Michael Mancienne, 7 James Milner, 8 Tom Huddlestone, 9 Gabriel Agbonlahor (17 Fraizer Campbell, 46), 10 Mark Noble, 11 Adam Johnson,
Subs: 12 Andrew Taylor, 13 Tom Heaton, 14 Martin Cranie, 16 Matt Derbyshire, 18 Adam Lallana
Manager Stuart Pearce
Red Card Tom Huddlestone, 66
1 Owain Fon Williams, 2 Neal Eardley (c), 3 Rhoys Wiggins, 4 Jack Collison, 5 Darcy Blake, 6 Joe Jacobson, 8 Andy King (15 Mark Bradley, 60), 9 Simon Church, 10 Aaron Ramsey, 11 Shaun MacDonald (7 Nicky Adams, 83), 18 Sam Vokes
Subs not used: 12 Rhys Taylor, 13 Lloyd James, 14 Grant Basey, 16 Jonathan Brown, 17 Joe Allen
Manager Brian Flynn
Referee Kevin Blom (NED)
Assistants Wilco Lobbert (NED) and Berry Simon (NED)
Fourth Official Tom Van Sichem (NED)
England White, Blue White
Wales Red, Red, Red