England Under-21s tightened their grip of Euro qualifying Group One on Thursday night with a comfortable victory over Finland.
Gareth Southgate’s side may have only scored three on the night and did not quite hit the heights of their 5-0 win over Lithuania last month, but their control of the game kept the sell-out crowd in Milton Keynes entertained throughout.
Goals from Michael Keane and a Saido Berahino double did the damage and the margin of victory could easily have been wider with a little added fortune.
But the aim was always to end the year in control of the group and with bottom-placed San Marino next up in Shrewsbury on Tuesday the Three Lions have a good chance of doing just that, currently sitting three points clear at the summit having played a game less than most of their rivals.
It was a lively start from England, just as Southgate had demanded, with Wilf Zaha, Raheem Sterling and Ravel Morrison all showing their intent with a series of flicks and interchanges leaving the Finnish defence baffled at times.
England 3-0 Finland
Euro U21 qualifier
Thursday 14 November stadiummk, MK Dons
England’s attacking intent and flair meant the hosts always looked most likely to draw first blood and that is just how it proved.
The breakthrough arrived just after the 20 minute mark, when Sterling was fouled by Patrick O’Shaughnessy on the left, allowing James Ward-Prowse to take over from the dead ball.
The Southampton midfielder delivered a perfect cross and Keane was there to power home from close range to register his second goal for the Under-21s following last month’s opener in San Marino.
It was another Southampton player who was the provider for England’s second goal 15 minutes later, when Luke Shaw carried the ball forward and drilled a low cross-shot into the area. Finnish keeper Jesse Joronen could not hold onto the ball and it fell perfectly for Berahino to side-foot home from close range.
His celebration drew a caution from the referee, which unfortunately rules him out of Tuesday's game, but the message on his shirt was an important one for the striker who dedicated the goal to his late father.
England were straight on the front foot again in the second half, looking for that killer third goal, and Voronen was in better form just shy of the hour mark when he superbly turned Ward-Prowse’s shot wide.
Zaha again broke through on the left, with his low drive across goal reaching sub Tom Ince at the far post, but the Blackpool man just could not turn the ball home from close range.
Finland’s growing collection of fouls then resulted in a sending off for O’Shaughnessy, who picked up his second booking of the night for an ugly late lunge on Shaw.
Berahino then came within a whisker of adding a third, when sub Will Hughes dummied Morrison’s cross into the path of the West Brom man. A super drag-back and turn bought him some space, but his right-footer came crashing back off the bar.
At the other end, skipper Jack Butland showed the worth of his concentration, with his first save of the night in the 84th minute to turn away dangerman Tim Vayrynen’s snap-shot.
England were still searching for that elusive third goal though and Ward-Prowse came even closer as his free-kick shaved the post from 25 yards.
But it was fully deserved when the third goal arrived in the 91st minute, when Jesse Lingard slipped a pass across the box for Berahino who slid home a first time shot to complete the victory and take his impressive goal ratio to six goals in four outings.
England Under-21s: 1 Jack Butland,, 2 Carl Jenkinson, 3 Luke Shaw, 4 Nathaniel Chalobah (15 Will Hughes, 65), 5 John Stones, 6 Michael Keane, 7 Wilfried Zaha, 8 James Ward-Prowse, 9 Saido Berahino, 10 Ravel Morrison, 11 Raheem Sterling (17 Tom Ince, 65).
Substitutes not used: 12 Jack Robinson, 13 George Long, 14 Eric Dier, 16 Jesse Lingard, 18 Danny Ings.
Head Coach: Gareth Southgate
Goals: Michael Keane (22), Saido Berahino (37, 90+1).
Cautions: Saido Berahino (38).
Finland Under-21s: 1 Jesse Joronen (c), 3 Felipe Askegren, 4 Dani Hatakka, 6 Robin Lod (5 Juuso Hamalainen, 78), 7 Hoshtagh Yaghoubi, 8 Kalle Kauppi (18 Jesper Brechtel, 64), 9 Tim Vayrynen, 10 Aleksi Paananen, 14 Daniel O’Shaughnessy, 15 Patrick O’Shaughnessy, 16 Nikolai Alho.
Substitutes not used: 12 Walter Viitala, 2 Atte Hoivala, 11 Loorent Hertsi, 17 Juho Lehtonen, 19 Marcus Heimonen.
Head Coach: Mika Laurikainen
Cautions: Patrick O’Shaughnessy (42 & 70), Daniel O’Shaughnessy (57), Hoshtagh Yaghoubi (73).
Red card: Patrick O’Shaughnessy (70)
Referee: Paolo Valeri
Assistant referees: Alessandro Giallatini & Alessandro Costanzo.
Fourth official: Massimiliano Irrati.