Lions secure Final spot
Tuesday, 16 October, 2012
Connor Wickham goal seals U21s' place in Euros, but ugly scenes in Serbia mar victory
By Jamie Bradbury in Krusevac
England Under-21s made it to the European Championship Finals, but their 1-0 second-leg victory over Serbia was marred by ugly scenes at full-time.
Connor Wickham's breakaway goal in injury time sealed a 2-0 aggregate win on a nervy night for The Three Lions. But what followed will rob them of the headlines after sealing a fourth consecutive berth in the Finals.
Wickham tucked home with the host's goalkeeper Branimir Alexic nowhere to be seen, as Serbia tried desperately to take the game into extra-time with a winner of their own and an eleventh man in the England area to attack a free-kick.
England clinically took advantage to secure their place in the Finals in Israel. But it sparked mayhem as Danny Rose saw a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in frustration during the melee that ensued at the final whistle.
It started as a relatively sedate, muggy night in front of a vocal full-house at the Mladost Stadium in Kusevac. England knew what they had to do after bringing with them a 1-0 advantage from the first leg and were expecting a difficult night.
Despite an early scare for England, who managed to clear away a first-minute attack from the home side, Stuart Pearce’s boys should have been in front in the fourth minute.
Marvin Sordell collected Jordan Henderson’s pass through the defence and cut inside his marker on the left of the box. From eight yards, he smashed the ball goalwards but it found the outside of the post and cannoned away.
The visitors continued in the same vein as they did on Friday, enjoying the early pressure and shutting out the noisy crowd.
Nikola Ninkovic had a couple of chances to pull Serbia level on aggregate midway through the first half. One was easy for Jack Butland, and the other just missed the post with the 'keeper at full stretch.
Darko Lazovic also had a sighting from the edge of the area, but his effort towards the corner was saved well.
The awesome Craig Dawson, whose penalty at Carrow Road separated the two sides, came close to scoring again as he met Rose’s deep free-kick from the left but couldn’t get his header on target.
The game was finely poised, and even though the rain began to fall, it failed to silence the crowd rooting for their team to get back on level terms.
Luka Milivojevic had an opportunity just before the break, connecting well with a deep corner to the far post, but his effort arrowed over the bar.
Serbia returned after half time in a similar fashion, searching for a much-needed goal. Ninkovic again tried one from outside the box and almost caught Butland out, but the Birmingham City stopper - who had been dealing with missiles thrown at him from the crowd during the game - punched the ball firmly away.
Ninkovic was Serbia’s key threat, keen to get on the ball inside the England third and try his luck when the opportunity arose. And the Three Lions couldn’t get into their stride again, struggling to put pressure on the home side.
But Serbia were restricted to shots from distance. One particular effort from the left boot of Milos Kosanovic, from all of 40 yards, went fractionally high of the target.
And as Serbia searched for the equaliser, England held firm before wrapping up the win in the final seconds to book their place on the plane in Israel.
But unfortunately, non-football issues will spoil England's glory.