Lewis Baker rescues a point for England against Slovenia in opening Euro qualifying
By Jamie Reid in Ptuj
A late Lewis Baker equaliser gave England U19s a hard-earned point against Slovenia in the opening game of their Euro 2014 qualifying campaign.
Maks Barišič’s well taken goal in the opening stages gave the hosts the lead – a lead they held for much of the match as they frustrated their guests – but a late, and calmly taken finish by Baker gave England the point they will feel their second-half display had warranted.
Drawn in Group 9 alongside hosts Slovenia, Andorra and Switzerland – with the top two sides progressing – avoiding defeat in the opening game was always going to be essential, and the Young Lions will be relieved as it had begun to look as though they would be unable to find a way through, despite their second-half dominance.
Slovenia carved the first opening on four minutes, as Petar Stojanovič broke free on the left and squared to Barišič, who found himself in space in the penalty box, only to mishit a shot which was well blocked by Adam Webster.
Barišič soon got another chance as he and Stojanovič combined again, this time with a more fruitful outcome. The striker latched on to a long pass from midfield, got in behind the England defence and found himself bearing down on Mitchell Beeney’s goal – before confidently rounding the England keeper and rolling the ball into an empty net to put the hosts ahead.
England gradually began to find their way into the game and recovered well. The Young Lions controlled possession in the middle of the park. Arsenal striker Chuba Akpom fired just over with a curling left-foot shot John Swift went close with a curling left-foot effort.
England, growing in confidence, continued to push and Slovenia struggled to clear a Baker free-kick. The ball fell to captain Calum Chambers in the penalty area, but the Southampton defender couldn’t get it under control and the hosts scrambled clear.
As England began to press further, Slovenia proved a threat on the counter-attack. The athletic Barišič and skillful captain Dino Hotič constantly looked to link up and catch the Young Lions on the break.
If it was not for a fine Beeney save from a fiercely hit Luka Gajič shot on 35 minutes, England would have been two down. The hosts went even closer moments later when Barišič’s glancing header looked for all the world to be heading into the back of the net, but somehow it hit the inside of the post and span into Beeney’s grateful hands.
As the first half drew to a close, there was a moment of controversy when James Wilson disposed Rok Jazbec and was cynically hauled down by the Slovenia defender. He wasn’t the last man and was booked for his antics, but Wilson will feel that had it not been for the foul he would have had a clear run at Gregor Zabret’s goal. It wasn’t to be, and England went into the break trailing by a single goal.
We began the second half on the front foot, with Jordon Ibe and Akpom combining well on the left. The latter whipped a dangerous cross to the back post, where Chambers met it with a firm header, only to see the ball fly agonisingly wide.
Baker’s set pieces also proved a threat. The Chelsea midfielder sent two almost identical crosses into the back post, and twice the awaiting forwards in the box were unable to get that crucial contact.
As the second half progressed, England were on top – dominating possession and camped in the Slovenian half, but unable to find the crucial breakthrough. Ibe went close with a half-chance, as did Akpom – but the Young Lions were finding it hard to create anything in the way of a clear-cut chance, against a resolute and disciplined Slovenia back four.
On a rare occasion when Akpom was afforded the space to run at Slovenia with the ball at his feet, he will have felt he should have had a penalty when he appeared to be clipped by Damjan Vukliševič’s outstretched leg. The striker pleaded but the referee waved away his protests.
Slovenia, under pressure for much of the second half, began to pass the ball with the fluidity they had in the early stages, and England – sensing time was turning against them were forced to chase.
Second-half substitutes Shay Facey, Mason Bennett and Josh Murphy added fresh legs – and indeed, it was a Murphy shot from the edge of the penalty that found its way through to the feet of Baker, who controlled instantly, composed himself, and nonchalantly slotted home to make it 1-1 with five minutes remaining.
It was a deserved point for Noel Blake’s side – who face Andorra in 48 hours at the same stadium, with three points very much the order of the day.
1 Mitchell Beeney, 2 Calum Chambers (C), 3 Harry Toffolo, 4 Lewis Baker, 5 Adam Webster, 6 Isaac Hayden (15 Shay Facey, 64), 7 John Swift, 8 Ben Pearson, 9 James Wilson (12 Mason Bennett, 76), 10 Chuba Akpom, 11 Jordon Ibe (18 Josh Murphy, 82).
Substitutes not used
13 Luke Coddington, 14 Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 16 Jake Cooper, 17 Carlton Morris.
1 Gregor Zabret, 2 Matic Reja, 4 Nik Lorbek, 5 Rok Jazbec, 6 Damjan Vukliševič, 7 Dino Hotič (C), 8 Maks Barišič, 11 Petar Stojanovič, 16 Jon Stankovič, 17 Dino Paljušič, (3 Tilen Klemenčič, 90), 18 Luka Gajič, 14 Luka Zahovič.
Substitutes not used
12 Miha Tetičkovič, 9 Bian Paul Šauperl, 13 Marko Krivičič, 15 Jan Andrejašič.
Nerijus Dunauskas (Lithuania)