England sitting pretty
Monday, 10 September, 2012
Under-21s beat Norway in Chesterfield to qualify for play-offs as group winners.
by Jamie Bradbury in Chesterfield
Connor Wickham was the match-winner for England as Stuart Pearce’s side beat Norway to qualify for the Euro 2013 play-offs.
Wickham pounced just before the break to seal the victory in a very tight contest in Chesterfield and put the Three Lions one step closer to the Finals in Israel next summer.
With earlier results favouring both sides, Pearce and his opposite number Per Hansen knew that a play-off place was guaranteed, whatever the result in this game. But a point for England would have taken top spot and put them in Pot A in the draw.
Having been without goalkeeper Jason Steele for the game in Azerbaijan due to illness, Pearce lost Nathan Delfouneso on the day of the game in similar circumstances. He was also without influential defender Craig Dawson, suspended for his second yellow card in qualification in the win in Baku.
It meant that England had five changes to the starting team, with Steele returning, Leicester City’s Ben Marshall earning his first start, Ryan Bennett was at centre-back while Wickham was supported just behind by Martyn Waghorn.
And it was Waghorn who had the game’s first real effort of note, with the thunderbolt left-foot he’s become so familiar for. Finding a little room on the edge of the box with six minutes played, he had just one thing on his mind, driving a fierce shot at Arild Ostbo. The Norwegian stopper did well to push away for a corner.
Norway were lively, though, and it was clear to see why they had performed so well during qualification. But like England, their good work wasn’t producing anything to really trouble Steele.
Harmeet Singh did have a couple of strikes on goal but both were from outside the box. The first was deflected for a corner, the second dragged wide of the post. Omar Elabdellaoui was also asking questions and when he raided down the right it opened up a chance but England defended well.
With both rearguards looking comfortable, it was a mistake by Norway that allowed England to go in front. Waghorn intercepted a weak pass forward on the right side of the penalty area, feeding the unmarked Wickham. The Sunderland striker steadied himself before tucking home from close-range for his first Under-21s goal.
It lifted Pearce’s men, who came out buzzing in the second half with Tom Ince providing an option in offensive positions. A great move from the home side on the left, pulled the Norway defence open and Danny Rose’s deep cross was nodded back into the danger zone by Ince. Unfortunately, though, there was no one on hand to finish and the Norwegians cleared.
The game then turned as Norway went in search of an equaliser. Yann-Erik de Lanlay came on and was soon in the action, creating a chance for himself which is arrowed just wide. He almost converted a header on the six yard box, but missed the target completely.
Havard Nielsen was even closer, crashing a powerful effort onto the underside of Steele’s bar and the ball bounced clear.
The threat was there, though, so Pearce acted by bringing Leeds United defender Tom Lees into the action for his debut in place of the goalscorer Wickham as they looked to protect the advantage.
Norway needed two goals to leapfrog England to top the table, but their time ran out. Both nations will be in the hat in Friday’s draw, but Pearce’s young Lions go in as group winners which means a potentially more favourable draw for next month’s double-header knock-out.
Video highlights can be viewed below, but not available to watch in Norway.