Victory over France on Tuesday will seal England Under-19s a place at this summer’s Euro finals in Greece, following their 1-0 defeat of Azerbaijan.
Ashley Smith-Brown’s first-half goal, his second in two games, was enough to claim the win in an elite qualifying round match his team-mates totally dominated.
England 1-0 Azerbaijan
Euro U19 Championship
Elite Round Qualifier
Stadium Henry Jeanne, Bayeux, France
Saturday 28 March 2015
Azerbaijan mustered just two efforts on Freddie Woodman’s goal and Sean O’Driscoll’s charges could have won by an even greater margin, such was their monopoly on the ball.
But, coupled with their 3-2 victory against Denmark on Thursday, the Young Lions are level with France at the top of Group 7 on six points going into next week’s final group game.
There were six changes to the team that edged Denmark – one of those was forced upon O’Driscoll with Harry Winks forced to sit out through suspension.
England’s midfield pairing was debutant Aaron Kuhl, from Reading, and Leeds United’s Lewis Cook, who was turning out for the U19s for the first time, less than a year after helping the U17s win the European Championship in Malta.
O’Driscoll’s side fell behind to Denmark early on, but there was little chance of that happening against a limited Azerbaijan outfit.
England controlled possession from the off, often having to contend with their opponents camping all 11 players behind the ball.
Some typically bamboozling footwork from Patrick Roberts afforded the Fulham youngster the yard of space he needed to attempt the game’s first strike at goal, but his 25-yard effort was tipped over well by Tolga Sahin.
Cook then side-footed a decent chance just past the angle of post and bar when found on the edge of the box by Kuhl.
Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek called Sahin into action once more with a low left-foot drive as the England pressure mounted.
That pressure finally told 10 minutes before half-time – and it was another wonderful finish from Smith-Brown, after his stunning winner on Thursday.
The Manchester City defender had been moved from his usual right-back berth to the opposite flank to accommodate Ola Aina.
Smith-Brown picked up the ball on the left, cut inside and curled a shot into the far corner with his right foot to give his side a deserved lead.
After the break, England picked up where they left off, dominating possession and constantly probing in search of an opening.
Roberts chipped just past the post and Kuhl smashed a free-kick wide and O’Driscoll’s charges, again, had to deal with three banks of red shirts.
And having dominated throughout, the unthinkable almost happened. Mirkamil Hashimli led a rare Azerbaijan counter-attack and exchanged passes with Elnur Jafarov.
The latter found himself in space on the left-hand side of the box but dragged his shot wide of the far post. He probably should have done better.
Budag Nasirov then forced Woodman into his only real save of the match but that was the last time Azerbaijan offered any sort of threat.
A low, angled drive from Middlesbrough striker Bradley Fewster was saved by Sahin’s feet late on as England attempted to achieve a winning margin their domination merited.
Loftus-Cheek thought he had registered that second goal on 87 minutes but the assistant referee’s flag was raised for an offside.
However, Smith-Brown’s goal was enough for the victory and England will now prepare for Tuesday’s winner-takes-all encounter against France.
England (4-2-3-1): 13 Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United); 12 Ola Aina (C; Chelsea), 6 Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic), 5 Brendan Galloway (Everton), 2 Ashley Smith-Brown (Manchester City); 17 Aaron Kuhl (Reading), 14 Lewis Cook (Leeds United); 7 Patrick Roberts (Fulham), 8 Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), 16 Alex Kiwomya (Chelsea); 15 Bradley Fewster (Middlesbrough).
Substitutes: 11 Demarai Gray (Birmingham City) for Roberts 67, 10 Charlie Colkett (Chelsea) for Cook 79, 9 Izzy Brown (Chelsea) for Fewster 83
Substitutes not used: 1 Angus Gunn (Manchester City), 3 Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), 18 Robert Dickie (Reading).
Goals: Smith-Brown 36
Bookings: Smith-Brown, Kuhl.
Head coach: Sean O’Driscoll
Azerbaijan: 12 Tolga Sahin, 2 Ilyas Safarzade, 3 Gazimahammad Gurbanov, 6 Budag Nasirov, 7 Mahir Madatov (C), 8 Mirkamil Hashimli, 9 Fahmin Muradbayli, 10 Elnur Jafarov, 13 Elgun Ulukhanov, 14 Yusif Nabiyev, 17 Gismat Aliyev.
Substitutes: 23 Vadim Agaragimov for Muradbayli 45, 11 Roman Huseynov for Madatov 61, 16 Emin Zamanov for Nasirov 90
Substitutes not used: 1 Agaseyid Gasimov, 4 Bahlul Mustafazade, 5 Renat Agaverdiev, 21 Ilkin Sadigov.
Bookings: Safarzade, Gurbanov
Head coach: Nicolai Adam
Referee: Adrien Jaccottet (Switzerland)