England came from a goal behind to edge the first part of their Euro 2009 Play-Off against Wales.
Simon Church 13, 45
David Wheater 19, Adam Johnson 35, Gabriel Agbonlahor 62
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Play-Off First Leg
7.45pm, Friday 10 October 2008
Ninian Park, Cardiff City FC
England’s Under-21s came from a goal behind to edge the first part of their Euro 2009 Play-Off in a five-goal thriller against Wales.
But Stuart Pearce’s men had only conceded one goal during the eight qualifying group games, and they were made to work hard for the result in Cardiff, which will put them in the driving seat in the second leg on Tuesday.
Simon Church had given Wales a deserved early lead, and then levelled the scores just before half-time after David Wheater and Adam Johnson had put England in front.
But it was Gabriel Agbonlahor’s audacious back flick that wrapped up the first part of this story, though England will know there’s still a lot of pages to turn.
Similar to the game in May, Wales looked confident, stroking the ball around early on to the sounds of ‘Ole’ from the noisy Cardiff crowd.
Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey had an early encounter with Spurs’ Jamie O’Hara and the young Gunner lost his north London rival with a tidy drop of the shoulder, but his final ball was cleared.
But it took just 13 minutes for their possession to pay off. A fine ball through to Simon Church on the edge of the box looked to have caught England out. Michael Mancienne had other ideas, wrapping his leg around Church to hook the ball away.
However, the clearance hit the legs of Steven Taylor and rebounded back into the path of Church. With no sign of nerves, the Reading forward coolly stroked into the bottom of Joe Hart’s net.
Wales were buzzing and continued to control the game, and fought for every loose ball. But their lead lasted just six minutes, as England began to find some momentum.
And their first real attack saw Gabriel Agbonlahor bearing down on Owain Fon Williams. His low strike was pushed away by the Stockport County stopper, but provided him with a second bite at the cherry. This time Lewin Nyatanga was in his way, clearing for a corner.
From the resulting cross, David Wheater, back after suspension against Portugal, rose at the back post to header inside the post and level matters for his first ever Under-21 goal.
A powerful long-range effort from Wales made Hart work, though it was one from England that nearly gave them the lead ten minutes later. Agbonlahor picked the ball up thirty yards out. With lots of bodies between him and the goal, he fired a rocket-like strike which left Williams stranded, but struck the cross bar.
With ten minutes before half-time, the visitors did go in front. James Milner and Adam Johnson had both shots blocked in a period of attacking play from Stuart Pearce’s men. Then Johnson was given the chance to run at his marker, Neal Eardley.
Though his first touch took him wide, out to the left of the area, his second completely out-foxed Eardley. As he turned inside with just the ‘keeper to beat, he showed strength to hold off the defender, maintain his composure and curl delightfully beyond Williams with his right foot.
With the clock running down to half-time, Wales found an opening and it was that man Church who did the damage. His swivel in the area forced England’s defence onto their heels. Taylor’s slip then opened up the space and from 12 yards he buried the ball sweetly into the same right hand corner as last time. That was his sixth Welsh Under-21 goal in nine appearances, an fine record, and sent this battle of Britain in all square at the break. The plot thickened.
Johnson’s goal, his second for England, had clearly given him a lift as he began to pose a real threat to the home side. The Middlesbrough winger was becoming a frequent outlet on the left for The Three Lions as they looked to restore their earlier lead.
Meanwhile on the right, Milner was linking up well with Mark Noble, but they just couldn’t create an end product to hurt the Welsh. But when an England attack that started on the left was switched to the other flank, Milner fed the ball into the box for Noble to go at the full back.
He fizzed across the face of goal and it was begging for a final touch to take it in. Up stepped Agbonlahor and his cheeky flick diverted the ball into the corner of the net, and England were back in front.
Shaun McDonald came close to responding almost straight away. After shrugging off two England challenges, him drove goalwards from 25 yards, but Hart was equal to it. Ramsey also had a pop from range, after turning his man well, but that didn’t concern England’s Manchester City 'keeper.
A Milner run and shot - a left-foot pile driver, which was parried well by Williams – was followed by another decent forward burst from the Aston Villa midfielder. His cross into the danger zone was just too quick for substitute Fraizer Campbell to reach. Mark Noble had a couple of tries too, one well saved by Williams, the other flew into the crowd, but England were still searching for goals.
Wales kept reminding England, however, that the book was far from closed. When Jack Collison was given time to carry the ball forward, he teed himself up for a vicious shot which had Hart at full stretch, but unfortunately for the West Ham man, Wales’ last chance of the night was just a fraction high.
However, we’re only halfway through this story and there’s bound to be a twist in the tail. But we’ll have to wait until Tuesday night, and the return at Villa Park, to find out how it ends…
1 Owain Fon Williams, 2 Neal Eardley, 3 Rhoys Wiggins, 4 Jack Collison, 5 Darcy Blake, 7 Nicky Adams (17 Joe Allen, 59), 8 Andy King, 9 Simon Church, 10 Aaron Ramsey, 11 Shaun MacDonald (16 Jonathan Brown, 76), 15 Lewin Nyatanga
Subs not used: 6 Joe Jacobson, 12 Rhys Taylor, 13 Lloyd James, 14 Mike Williams, 18 Marc Williams
Manager Brian Flynn
1 Joe Hart, 2 David Wheater, 3 Jamie O’Hara, 4 Lee Cattermole, 5 Steven Taylor, 6 Michael Mancienne, 7 James Milner, 8 Tom Huddlestone, 9 Gabby Agbonlahor (16 Fraizer Campbell, 76), 10 Mark Noble, 11 Adam Johnson,
Subs not used: 12 Richard Stearman, 13 Tom Heaton, 14 Jack Cork, 15 Ryan Bertrand, 17 Matt Derbyshire, 18 Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
Manager Stuart Pearce
Referee Pavel Cristian Balaj
Assistant Referees Marcel Savaniu and Zoltan Szekely
Fourth Official Sorin Corpodean