VIDEO: Under-21s' Euro hopes live on
Tuesday, 07 September, 2010
Stuart Pearce's side qualify for Euro play-offs following victory.
Jamie Bradbury at the Weston Homes Community Stadium
Click here to watch highlights of the game.
England have reached the play-offs for the European Under-21s Championship, thanks to a 3-0 victory over Lithuania in Colchester.
Danny Welbeck hit two and Marc Albrighton got the other as England kept knocking on the door of their stout opponents. But it took an hour before they finally got their noses in front. However, it wasn’t all about what happened in Essex.
Pearce’s men kicked-off knowing that their job was to win, and the better the win the more chance it would give them of reaching the play-offs. However, despite sitting on just five points in the group, a 0-0 draw in Vilnius last November ensured England would take nothing for granted.
Daniel Sturridge missed a glorious chance after eleven minutes after being picked out unmarked inside the box by Danny Rose, but he lashed his left-foot strike into the ground and wide.
With so much at stake, the Three Lions needed a goal to settle them down as Lithuania were happy to keep their same strategy as the previous encounter and only go forward on the counter-attack.
And they were presented with a chance themselves when there was an uncharacteristic mix-up at the back. Phil Jones’ loose pass to Chris Smalling was anticipated by Arvydas Novikovas. He squared to Arturas Zulpa but the FK Kruoja man scooped his shot over the bar.
Blackburn Rovers defender Jones came close to opening his account for the Under-21s soon after, but his back post header bounced over Vytauta Cerniauskas’s goal. Captain Michael Mancienne also had the ‘keeper at full stretch but he managed to claw the low 20-yard drive away.
With all games kicking off across Europe at the same time, the situation was changing by the minute but England still needed to score to capitalise.
Intricate play from England following another foul by Lithuania put Danny Rose through inside the box, but he fired his shot over. Pearce’s men remained focused and continued to seek the much-needed edge though.
They were given a scare on another rare attack for the visitors, when a free kick from Mantras Fridrikas found its way through the dive of Frank Fielding before hitting the upright.
With a number of scores going in England’s favour, they still needed a goal of their own so Pearce made a tactical switch at the break bringing on Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere for right-back Kyle Walker.
And England started the second half strongly. Rose pulled the trigger on another positive move around the box but his shot was blocked, Cleverley’s inswinger from the left was tipped over by Cerniauskas, before Sturridge delivered a bending left-foot drive from the edge of the area that beat the stopper but whistled agonisingly past the post.
England were knocking, but the Lithuanians continued to hold strong as Sturridge had another chance blocked by the legs of the keeper.
Finally, the deadlock was broken on 64 minutes and it was a cool finish by Welbeck, scoring his first for the Under-21s. Wilshere won the ball back deep in England territory, fed the ball wide to Cleverley and advanced for the return before laying through into the path of the Sunderland loan forward, who slotted inside the far post.
Welbeck came close to adding a second, connecting with a cross from sub Albrighton, but the ball flashed across goal and he also saw a header from the same source land on the roof of the bar either side of a Sturridge goal ruled out for offside.
Then the Aston Villa winger turned goalscorer, giving England the breathing space they deserved. First Welbeck beat the left-back and could only watch as his deflected cross towards Wilshere was somehow smuggled from the line. But the ball back in from Welbeck arrowed across the six-yard box where Albrighton was on hand to steer home.
Welbeck then sealed a man-of-the-match display in injury time, tucking home from six-yards after a neat back flick from Jordan Henderson and he almost won a penalty just after but the referee wasn’t convinced by the trip.
But it didn’t matter as results came in across Europe and England made their way into the play-offs.
1 Frank Fielding, 2 Kyle Walker (16 Jack Wilshere, 46), 3 Ryan Bertrand, 4 Michael Mancienne (c), 5 Chris Smalling, 6 Phil Jones, 7 Tom Cleverley (14 Marc Abrighton, 64), 8 Jordan Henderson, 9 Danny Welbeck, 10 Daniel Sturridge (15 Jack Cork, 78), 11 Danny Rose
Subs not used 12 Martin Kelly, 13 Alex Smithies, 17 Fabrice Muamba, 18 Nathan Delfouneso
1 Vytautas Cerniauskas, 2 Linas Klimavicius (c), 3 Manta Fridrikas, 5 Karolis Urbaitis (7 Armenas Vaskela, 72), 4 Vytautas Andriuskevicius, 8 Egidijus Vaitkunas, 10 Arturas Zulpa (9 Edgaris Mastianica, 88), 11 Tadas Eliosius, 13 Karolis Chvedukas, 14 Fedor Cernych (17 Audrius Brokas, 82), 18 Arvydas Novikovas
Subs not used 12 Armantas Vitkauskas, 15 Marius Miskinis, 16 Ernestas Biskys, 19 Edvinas Jasaitis, 6 Gytis Gailius
Matej Jug (SVN)
Robert Zirnstein and Milan Kogej (SVN)