Craig gives England the edge
Friday, 12 October, 2012
A penalty from the West Brom defender hands the Young Lions a first leg advantage
By Jamie Bradbury at Carrow Road
England will take a one-goal advantage to Serbia on Tuesday after a narrow first-leg victory at Carrow Road.
Craig Dawson crashed home a 66th-minute penalty to edge a physical encounter to send the Serbians to their first defeat in qualifying.
The win edges the Three Lions closer to the Euro 2013 Finals, but Coach Stuart Pearce will know there is still much work to do in Tuesday’s return in Krusevac.
England were expecting a tough test in Norwich, and inside the first 50 seconds the visitors big no. 9 Dorde Despotovic had found himself in the referee’s notebook for a late challenge on Dawson.
He was soon joined by Aleksandar Pantic, who tugged Tom Ince’s shirt when the Blackpool forward threatened.
Debutant Raheem Sterling will also think himself unlucky becoming the game’s third booking inside six minutes for a soft foul, but it wrapped up a busy few minutes for Deniz Aytekin’s pencil.
When the football was allowed to start flowing, England were into their stride largely down to the positive work of left-back Danny Rose.
The Sunderland loanee first drove forward before clipping in a delightful cross towards the unmarked Ince. From twelve yards he looked odds on to at least work keeper Branimir Aleksic, but a poor connection sent his header wide.
The same pair linked up again moments later, Rose feeding Ince through on goal. A heavy first touch, though, allowed Aleksic to deal with the trouble coming his way.
Pearce’s side were enjoying much more of the attacking play, and when Sterling drifted into the box he looked dangerous until he hit the turf. The referee wasn’t impressed and told the Liverpool man to get up.
Although Serbia had two good chances from range through Sasa Markovic and Darko Lazovic, both without concerning Jack Butland, they did have the best chance of the first half. A ball in from the right found Luka Milunovic the wrong side of Dawson and it looked a simple header home from a yard out, but it went over the bar.
Then, as the first half approached its end, Ince and Henderson both came close. Ince’s left-foot rasping effort drifted just wide of one post, and Henderson’s drive after a one-two with Marvin Sordell narrowly missed the angle of the other.
Pearce made one change at half-time, bringing on Blackburn’s Jason Lowe in place of Rodwell, who had felt his hamstring tighten before the break.
Lazovic had another try at the England goal when a high ball dropped nicely for him to attempt a scissor-kick volley, but it was always rising over Butland’s goal.
It was a rare opportunity for the visitors as the Three Lions pushed on for the important breakthrough.
Zaha cut in from the left and stung Aleksic’s hands with a vicious drive and Sterling did something similar the other side before being wiped out by Nemanja Gudelj. No foul was given though.
However, when a desperate lunge from Luke Milunovic sent Adam Smith sprawling inside the area, the referee had no option but to award the spot-kick.
And it was Dawson, who scored from 12 yards for Team GB at London 2012, who stepped up and sent his effort flying past Aleksic for his fifth goal in just nine Under-21s outings.
Zaha should have added a second two minutes later when England attacked quickly down the left. The ball was fired across goal towards the Crystal Palace winger, and he steadied himself before bending towards the far post. Unfortunately it dropped the wrong side of the upright.
Milunovic almost made amends for the foul on Smith with ten minutes left, getting in behind the England defence, but he lashed his shot over the bar when a more composed finish would have given Butland something to consider.
England were certainly good for the first leg victory, and perhaps should have had more than the single Dawson effort. But if they can keep a fifth clean sheet in succession in Krusevac on Tuesday they’ll reach the Finals in Israel next summer.
Pearce will know, however, that this is only half-time.