England made to work for opening win
Friday, 04 September, 2009
Stuart Pearce's men make winning start to Euro qualification in Prilep.
Jamie Bradbury in Prilep
It was a winning start to England's 2011 UEFA Under-21 Championship qualifying campaign, but Macedonia made Stuart Pearce's side work hard for all three points.
It was a warm afternoon on a heavy pitch in Prilep, conditions that would not aid the Three Lions, and the home side didn't give them any extra help during the game either, forcing England to come from behind to take the points.
But ultimately, two second half strikes from Freddie Sears and a penalty from captain Lee Cattermole sealed the win late on.
It was Cattermole who had England's first attempt on Kristjian Naumovski's goal, finding space and shooting low from 20 yards, but the 'keeper was down well to gather.
And the Sunderland man was in the thick of the action again. Shortly after having a goal ruled out for offside, he fed a reverse ball from midfield into the path of Daniel Sturridge, starting his first game at Under-21 level.
The recent Chelsea signing steadied himself before side-footing towards goal. The home stopper reacted well, though, closing his legs quickly to stop the ball sneaking through.
But it wasn't all England as the home side, bouyed by an intermitently enthusiastic crowd, posed questions of Pearce's side. The main threat was the number ten, Agim Ibraimi. He was lively throughout and looked confident in possession.
England, though, seemed to be making things a little easier for him, conceding a number of fouls in potentially dangerous areas.
When Ibraimi was lining up one free-kick from the right, the crowd got off their seats. And it took a combination of the long grass and Scott Loach's quick feet to stop the low deflected shot from going in, as the Watford man pushed away to safety.
But when the FC Olympia forward had a second chance to shoot, he was sure to avoid the grass and Loach. From 25 yards he unleashed a ferocious left-foot drive that dipped over the dive of Loach and into the top corner of the net.
The crowd inside the Goce Delcev Stadium were now off their seats in delight, and the Euro 2009 Finalists needed a reply.
Kyle Naughton had a try from a cleared England corner and his shot was deflected wide, but it was Macedonia who should have scored again.
Another dangerous swing of his boot, and Ibraimi sent an inswinging free-kick from the right, which Jack Rodwell could only head against his team mate ten yards from goal. The ball fell kindly to Marko Ivanovski and his instinctive turn and shot, digging the ball out and poking it through a crowd, was blocked well by the feet of Loach.
England started the second half well, and with a different shape as Freddie Sears came on for Fabrice Muamba to partner Sturridge in attack. Within a minute they were given an opportunity to test the goalkeeper when Sturridge was fouled on the edge of the area. Junior Stanislas was one of three England players over the ball, but he couldn't get his shot over the wall.
However, they were struggling to create anything clear-cut while Macedonia continued to pose a threat on the break.
When midfielder Muarem Muarem knocked a long ball forward, substitute Muzafer Ejupi was set-free in behind Kieran Gibbs. The Arsenal full-back gave chase, but Ejupi was able to get his shot away, which Loach beat to safety.
Another Stanislas free-kick in a good position failed to beat the wall, then moments later the West Ham winger sent in a high corner that Macedonia couldn't clear. Danny Rose headed back into the danger-zone and Rodwell flicked on to the unmarked Sears six yards out and he instinctively stuck out a foot, diverting the ball away from Naumovski and into the net.
Sears came close again when Tomkins headed down at the far post from another Stanislas corner, but the ball hit the side netting before England were then gifted the chance to turn the game around.
Sturridge and substitute Jack Wilshere combined inside the area, and as the Arsenal man went past the last defender to the bye-line, he was clipped by the ankles and fell to the floor. The referee pointed to the spot from where Cattermole tucked away, just out of the reach of Naumovski.
A tricky obstacle overcame and three points on the board.