England Under-21s suffer their first home defeat since 2005.
Under-21 International Match
Gabriel Obertan 26, Moussa Sissoko 35
The City Ground, Nottingham Forest FC
8pm, Tuesday 31 March 2009
Live on Setanta
It was a disappointing return to the City Ground for England Under-21s Coach Stuart Pearce, whose side lost 2-0 to a well-organised French side.
Pearce spent 12 years at Nottingham Forest, and he was given a hero's welcome when he appeared from the tunnel before an impressive turn-out of over 23,000. However, the visitors were in no mood to help make the night complete for England as they went down to their first home defeat since October 2005.
First-half strikes from Gabriel Obertan and Moussa Sissoko gave France a richly deserved victory.
Pearce made five changes to the side that started in a snowy Norway four days earlier, with Matt Derbyshire, scorer of two in the 5-0 win in Sandefjord, coming in for Fraizer Campbell, while Michael Mancienne was given another opportunity in the midfield holding role, follow a good first-half display there against Ecuador six weeks earlier.
Adam Johnson’s left foot provided the first attempt at goal, from Michael Mancienne’s knock-down, but the ball swerved wide of the post. Liverpool striker David N’Gog tried one also, a low, casual drive, and that also missed the upright.
Then with just over ten minutes gone, N’Gog looked favourite to score when he broke free between David Wheater and Nedum Onuoha. Again though, his effort lacked conviction and Joe Hart saved.
The French regained possession and seconds later Gabriel Obertan, arriving on the right, fired goalwards from 15 yards, with Hart again called into action. This time the Manchester City stopper palmed the ball away for a corner.
And the Blue wave continued as England were struggling to retain possession. N’Gog could have been on for his hat-trick when he again broke the offside trap, but his lob wasn’t high enough to beat Hart’s reach.
Despite not reaching the UEFA European Championship, the visitors looked hungry to prove they were good enough, committing themselves to some very strong challenges.
While their forward play was largely keeping England in their own half in the opening 20 minutes, when Pearce’s men did get forward, the defence – which included Dorian Dervite, the Spurs player on loan at Southend, looked assured.
James Milner tested their resolve with a teasing ball into the six yard box for Matt Derbyshire. But where a similar ball on Friday night’s snow in Norway was tucked away by the Olympiacos man, this time his marker, captain Etienne Capoue, was at close quarters to clear.
With 24 minutes on the clock, France finally got their noses in front. England could only half clear a ball towards the box and it fell nicely to Obertan 20 yards out and the FA Lorient midfielder’s first time strike was low and hard beyond Hart’s dive and into the bottom corner.
It got worse for The Three Lions ten minutes later as their defence was again caught high up the pitch. David Wheater’s tackle on the half-way line on Moussa Sissoko dropped to a blue shirt before the ball was knocked back beyond the Middlesbrough defender for Sissoko to run onto.
With just Hart to beat, he opted for the chip, but unlike N’Gog’s earlier, the Toulouse midfielder’s finish was exquisite, giving the ‘keeper no chance.
Pearce’s men were seeing more of the ball, but were finding it very hard to break down the French rearguard. In the final minute of the first half, a free-kick looked to cause problems in the France six yard box, but Derbyshire couldn’t find the space, with limbs everywhere blocking a clear sight for a shot.
A change around was required, with England’s defence finding it difficult to cope with the pace of their opponents. Pearce made one alteration at the break, with Wheater making way for Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton man moving into the holding midfield position and Mancienne dropping into the back four alongside Onuoha.
France were still a threat however, and Garry Bocaly’s run on the right flank took him past Muamba before pulling back to Younousse Sankhare. He fired goalwards, with Hart’s legs blocking the shot. The ball rebounded off the legs of Onuoha and the skipper could only look on as it rolled just wide of his club mate’s goal.
Tom Huddlestone almost directed Johnson’s inswinging free-kick from the right past Johan Carrasso, but he failed to connect properly with his headed effort.
France continued to find joy on the left-hand side, with Sankhare and substitute Frédéric Nimani both attacking England with speed. Nimani came close again but his low drive hit the side netting.
With the game looking to be running away from England, Pearce brought on Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck, to join earlier substitute Fraizer Campbell in a two-man attack.
It seemed like it wasn’t to be England’s night when, with 15 minutes left, Johnson fired in an inviting ball across the penalty area, which evaded Campbell and Huddlestone before falling to the feet of Craig Gardner, on five minutes earlier for Mark Noble.
The Aston Villa midfielder took his time before strike fiercely towards goal, hitting the feet of Cheikh M’Bengue before ricocheting back off Gardner and into the hands of the grateful Carrasso, sitting on the floor.
From that, England found an extra gear which pushed France back. Welbeck’s quick one-two with Campbell on the edge of the area forced a French foul in a dangerous position. Johnson’s left boot sent the ball goal bound from the free-kick, but Carrasso was at full stretch to beat away from goal.
England have to wait for two months before their next meeting, a pre-Finals warm-up, before the business begins in Scandinavia on 15 June.
1 Joe Hart, 2 Martin Cranie (17 Jack Rodwell, 85), 3 Andrew Taylor (15 Jamie O’Hara, 85), 4 Michael Mancienne, 5 David Wheater (14 Fabrice Muamba, 46), 6 Nedum Onuoha, 7 James Milner (18 Danny Welbeck, 71), 8 Tom Huddlestone, 9 Matt Derbyshire (19 Fraizer Campbell, 60), 10 Mark Noble (12 Craig Gardner, 71), 11 Adam Johnson
Subs not used 13 Scott Loach, 16 Lee Cattermole
Coach Stuart Pearce
1 Johan Carrasso, 2 Garry Bocaly, 3 Cheikh M'Bengue, 4 Paul Baysse, 5 Dorian Dervite, 6 Etienne Capoue, 7 Gabriel Obertan (17 Jirès Kembo Ekoko, 61), 8 Moussa Sissoko, 9 David N'Gog (18 Frédéric Nimani, 60), 10 Younousse Sankhare (14 Marvin Martin, 90+1), 11 Armand Traore (15 Yohan Mollo, 80)
Subs not used
12 Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik, 13 Lamine Gassama,
16 Johnny Placide
Goals Gabriel Obertan (26), Moussa Sissoko (36)
Coach Erick Mombaerts