VIDEO: Lions back to winning ways
Wednesday, 29 February, 2012
A convincing 4-0 win over Belgium in Boro sees Under-21s back on track.
By Jamie Bradbury at the Riverside Stadium
Click here to watch highlights of England's 4-0 win
England Under-21s collected a valuable three points against Belgium here in Middlesbrough to move themselves seven points clear at the top of their UEFA European Championship Qualifying group.
Cheered on by nearly 23,000 fans at the Riverside, England moved a step closer to the Finals in Israel next summer. A brace from Henri Lansbury, one from Steven Caulker and a late Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain penalty gave the Three Lions a comfortable win, which also put to bed Belgium’s hopes of overhauling their lead in the table.
With Stuart Pearce away with the Senior team, Brian Eastick took the reins temporarily, but was very keen to ensure that things stayed the same. What he did want to see change, though, was England’s creativity in the final third, after they dominated the game away in Belgium in November, but conceded two late goals to lose the match 2-1.
Victory here would have given England a great chance to reach the Euro 2013 play-offs, with two games to play. And Lansbury gave them the perfect start, swinging in a deep cross-shot from the left flank. It looked promising as soon as it left his right boot and dipped perfectly under the bar to make it 1-0.
He almost grabbed a second from 20 yards five minutes later, but Koen Casteels was at full stretch to push away for a corner.
The visitors weren’t keeping quiet, though, and through Thomas Meunier they had their first chance, forcing Jack Butland into a smart save from the Club Brugge man. Winger Ziguy Badibanga also looked lively while the giant figure of Genk forward Christian Benteke almost headed home from close range after a teasing cross from Badibanga.
But it was England who went into the break in control of the game after Caulker doubled their lead on 36 minutes with his first goal for the Under-21s. Lansbury again was involved, this time his corner from the right found Craig Dawson rising at the back post. As has happened often in qualifying, Dawson rose well, winning the header sending it back into the danger zone where the on-loan Swansea City defender directed beyond Casteels.
With the second half still young, England went 3-0 up. Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who had impressed in training enough this week to earn his Under-21s debut, turned his marker Laurens De Bock in the right channel just inside the box. He pulled back to Lansbury eight yards out and the West Ham midfielder tucked away first time for his fifth of the season.
Gianni Bruno did have a chance to grab Belgium a lifeline just after when he got in behind Danny Rose, but the Lille forward saw his effort saved by by the outstanding Butland. Then Benteke was again in the end of a Badibanga cross, this one from the left, but his flick with the outside of his foot sent the ball over the bar from six yards.
As the game moved into injury time Belgium had two chances to grab a consolation. First substitute Lamisha Musonda shot low form close-range, but saw it blocked by Gary Gardner on the line. Then fellow replacement Jens Naessens broke free and just had Butland to beat, but the big 'keeper was down well to take the ball from his feet.
Chamberlain then wrapped up the win with the final kick of the game, tucking home a penalty after he was felled inside the area by Bolton Wanderers defender Dedryck Boyata. Now only Norway, who have three games left, can catch England at the top of the table, but must come to these shores when the action recommences in September.