England edge first leg
Friday, 08 October, 2010
Goals from Henderson and Smalling give Pearce's men narrow advantage.
by Jamie Bradbury at Carrow Road
England Under-21s will travel to Romania on Tuesday with a fragile one-goal lead, after beating their play-off rivals 2-1 at Carrow Road in the first leg of their European Championship play-off.
Second half goals from Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson and Manchester United defender Chris Smalling were enough to edge an entertaining and hard-fought match in Norfolk, between which Romania grabbed a lifeline with a cruelly deflected away goal.
And the tone for the match was set early on when Stefan Barboianu collected an early booking inside three minutes for a foul on Tom Cleverley. It was going to be a tough night for England against a side who romped home to win their qualifying group.
From the resulting free-kick, the ball found man of the match Henderson, who smashed a volley towards goal requiring a firm hand from Silviu Lung in goal.
Romania were looking fired up for the game, showing aggression, strength and pace on the break and carved out a series of good opportunities on the counter-attack and through set pieces.
Ionut Neagu watched a 25-yard effort go over the bar, then Paul Papp sunk to his knees moments later when his close-range flick was cleared from the line by Phil Jones.
And when Eric Bicfalvi burst through the England defence into the box, he fired low across Frank Fielding, but the Blackburn stopper stretched to claim.
For England, Cleverley almost latched onto a Ryan Bertrand cross six yards out, then the Wigan Athletic midfielder delivered a free-kick from the right to Jones at the far post, though his header was off target.
On the stroke of half time, Romania came the closest either side had to scoring when Ioan Hora, wide on the left, pulled back to the unmarked captain Gabriel Torje who a slapped a low drive against the post from 15 yards.
England’s second half response was positive as they put Romania under pressure in search of a vital goal. Danny Welbeck breached the right-back Cornel Papa to cross, but Valerica Gaman blocked, then Jones found himself out on the right wing after winning back possession on the edge of the visitors box, but his cross was high.
When Jack Wilshere turned goalwards in a dangerous central position, he lost two markers at once and looked to exploit the space in front of the back four. But a last-ditch tackle from Papa kept the Arsenal man from pulling the trigger.
Romania appeared content to sit back and let England have the ball as a sea of yellow stood between the Three Lions and Lung’s goal.
Michael Mancienne had England’s next sight on goal, a long-range strike arrived from right back, but it took a deflection and went out for a corner. From the resulting cross the ball was knocked clear, but smashed back with interest by Henderson. His looping volley too much for Lung and the ball rippled the net to break the deadlock.
An important goal, but Pearce’s men kept searching for more. However, a rare Romanian foray forward, after Fabrice Muamba was dispossessed, saw them draw level. Hora’s cross from the right took a deflection off the legs of Bertrand and totally wrong-footed Fielding and found its way into the net.
It was the first goal the Under-21s had conceded this season and could be worth more than one to Romania in the bigger picture of the play-off.
And it brought them out of their shell a little as they enjoyed more of the play inside England territory knowing a second goal could be a killer blow.
But it also gave the Three Lions more space in which to get behind them, and substitute Marc Albrighton was doing just that. His direct play, which has lit up Villa Park this season, was causing plenty of problems to left-back Barboianu.
And it was Albrighton’s corner that set up England’s valuable winner, finding fellow replacement Sturridge at the back post.
He kept it in play, nodding back into the danger-zone where Smalling, via a flick from Wilshere, smashed home from close-range to restore the advantage.
Barboianu went near to snatching another equaliser with a fierce drive from distance in the final minute, but Fielding palmed away for a corner.
It’s a slender advantage for Pearce’s Young Lions, but something to preserve in Botosani on Tuesday afternoon.