Three Lions frozen out
Monday, 28 March, 2011
Iceland come from one down to win at Deepdale.
By Jamie Bradbury at Deepdale
England’s penultimate Euro 2011 preparation game ended in disappointment as Iceland came from a goal down to win 2-1 at Deepdale.
But it will give Coach Stuart Pearce plenty of food for thought as he starts to finalise his 23-man squad for the summer, and defeat to another of the Finals hopefuls will also give him an idea of what could lie ahead.
Nathan Delfouneso had given England the lead with a tidy finish, but Arnor Smarason levelled just before half time. And, in a fairly even contest between sides perhaps sizing each other up for a potential semi-final meeting in Denmark, a header from West Ham United's Holmar Eyjolfsson snatched the win.
The Three Lions began the game with three of those who started in the 4-0 win over Denmark on Thursday, with Nathan Baker winning his debut, Connor Wickham making his first start and Ryan Bertrand as captain.
And while Pearce used the opportunity to look at his squad in depth, Iceland featured four of their players from their senior team’s 0-0 draw with Cyprus at the weekend; Haraldur Bjornsson, Birkir Bjarnason, Alfred Finnbogason and Amor Smarason.
And they were very lively going forward, meaning that James Tomkins – in his first start since October 2009 – and Baker, had their work cut out. But for a superb last-ditch challenge from right-back Kyle Naughton covering in the centre, Bjorn Sigurdarson could have been through on goal.
Alex McCarthy was called into action soon after, making a firm stop from Bjarnason’s 25-yard pile-driver. The Reading stopper did well to push away to safety.
Delfouneso, playing his seventh game for the Under-21s, coolly slotted home the opener past Haraldur Bjornsson on 13 minutes. It came from a delightful Danny Rose pass from the middle of midfield that sent the Burnley loanee free one-on-one with the 'keeper. The 20-year-old made no mistake to notch his second goal at this level.
Marc Albrighton was providing pace on the right flank, but wasn’t afraid to come inside and run at the defence. He almost carved a way though too, but after beating three men, he was blocked out just as he pulled the trigger.
Albrighton, England's man-of-the-match, then laid on a decent opportunity for Josh McEachran just before the break, but the Chelsea youngster couldn’t wrap his foot around the clipped cross to the far post and the ball hit the side-netting.
But, on the stroke of half-time, Iceland levelled with almost a replica of the Three Lions earlier strike. Alfred Finnbogason fed a neat through ball in behind England’s defence to Smarason, turning Baker, and the Iceland senior international out-paced the Aston Villa man to tuck past McCarthy with aplomb.
Baker came close to restoring England’s lead five minutes into the second half when he met a right-hand cross from Tom Cleverley, on for Jack Cork at the break, but he powered the ball just over. Then Wickham had an effort from a tight angle that was palmed out by Bjornsson.
The visitors maintained their offensive threat and came close to taking the lead when Finnbogason forced a save from substitute Scott Loach from range. Loach’s parry went to the feet of Bjorn Sigurdarson but Tomkins snuffed out the Lillestrom forward’s shot.
However, from the resulting corner, Smarason found the head of manager’s son, Eyjolfsson, who rose well to direct his effort into the angle of the goal. It was just out of the reach of Naughton on the line, and left England trailing with a quarter of the game left.
Wickham almost pulled England back on terms minutes later, sliding into an Albrighton cross six yards out, but he failed to connect and the ball drifted out.
With his 23-man squad in the summer in his mind, Pearce introduced debutants Jordan Spence, Mark Hammill and Jordon Mutch, while Joe Bennett had another opportunity at left-back after his only appearance so far in Italy.
With skipper Bertrand departing, the armband was passed to Rose as England looked for inspiration to get back into the game. Scott Loach needed to be alert, though, stopping Sigurdarson from making it ever worse for the Three Lions.
A determined run from Rose in the closing moments looked dangerous, but again the powerful defence were able to marshal him away from goal. Then Scott Sinclair almost found the target from outside the box but his shot went wide.