Lions claim Baku victory
Thursday, 06 September, 2012
Under-21s move a step closer to Euro 2013 play-offs with a 2-0 win in Azerbaijan.
by Jamie Bradbury
A goal in either half from Steven Caulker and Jonjo Shelvey gave England Under-21s victory in Azerbaijan.
The win keeps Stuart Pearce's side two clear at the top of the group ahead of second-placed Norway, who won away in Belgium. And there's just one game to play - an exciting top of the table clash with the Norwegians in Chesterfield on Monday night.
In reality, it could have been an even bigger margin of victory on an artificial surface in Baku. Caulker had two more headers that both missed the target, while Marvin Sordell and Wilfried Zaha would have liked to have seen close-range efforts beat Azeri 'keeper Salahat Aghayev.
But the objective of the trip was to collect maximum points and keep the pressure on the Norwegians ahead of the final group qualifier, and England return home having done just that.
After six months without a game - their last outing was a 4-0 victory over Belgium in Middlesbrough - Pearce was pleased to bring his squad together again. And although his young group was brimming with familiar faces, including five members of his Team GB side from London 2012, there was still room for two first-timers.
One, Tom Ince, son of Pearce's former England team-mate Paul, was handed his debut from the kick-off and was soon in the action. Receiving a pass from Sordell with his back to goal five yards out, he turned well but screwed his shot wide of the mark.
Shelvey's recent form for Liverpool earned him only his second start under Pearce and he took his chance to impress. After teeing up Zaha for a chance that the Crystal Palace man found the side netting with, Shelvey was instrumental in England taking the lead.
His well-delivered free-kick picked out Tottenham Hotspur defender Caulker, who did the rest to give the Three Lions the edge with his head.
Two more headers before the break from Caulker, both off-target, sandwiched a golden opportunity for his Olympic team mate Sordell. Danny Rose had done well on the left to keep the ball in play before rolling towards the Bolton Wanderers striker.
With Aghayev out of position, Sordell turned on the six yard box and shot goalwards, but the stopper recovered to push around the post.
Early into the second half Zaha should have made it two. Swivelling, but leaning back, he sent a close-range left-foot shot over the bar.
And England didn't have it all their way against a side they beat 6-0 on home soil 12 months earlier. Javid Imamverdiyev was continually providing the home side with an advanced option and when he teased Caulker into the box, he tried a curler towards goal around the defender. Fortunately for England it was just wide of Ben Amos' upright.
Amos needed to be alert to Araz Abdullayev's 20-yarder moments later and then Mirhuseyin Seyidov's inswinging free-kick from 25 yards, which was just asking for an Azerbaijan flick on. Both efforts the Manchester United keeper dealt with well, keeping England's noses in front.
Leicester City's Ben Marshall was the night's other debutant, replacing Wilfried Zaha in the second half, but it was another sub, Connor Wickham, who claimed a hand in England clincher.
With eight minutes left, a long pass forward from Caulker was helped into the box by the head of the Sunderland man. Shelvey was onto it in a flash, controlling nicely before crashing past Aghayev with a fierce left-foot strike.
A point against Norway on Monday will see Pearce's team safely into the hat for next week's play-off draw, where a place in the Finals in Israel next June will be at stake.
The last remaining tickets are on sale for the final group decider at the Proact Stadium on Monday. Call 01246 488232 or email email@example.com or book online at www.chesterfield-fc.co.uk