England Under-21s made a triumphant homecoming at the Riverside Stadium, showing their resolve to come from behind twice and secure a thrilling 3-2 win over Germany.
After spending the last week at their base in Czech Republic for this summer’s Euro finals, Gareth Southgate’s depleted squad faced possibly their toughest test since securing qualification last October.
And they came through it against a strong German side featuring no fewer than five players already capped at senior level.
England 3-2 Germany
U21s International Match
7.45pm, Monday 30 March
The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Live on BT Sport
They had to do it the hard way though, as birthday boy Philipp Hofmann struck twice to put Horst Hrubesch’s side in front early in both halves.
Equalisers from Jesse Lingard and Nathan Redmond showed England’s resolve, before a finely-worked winner from James Ward-Prowse ensure the Three Lions will head back to Czech Republic in June with plenty of confidence.
A win had looked unlikely after 15 minutes though, when a break down the left from Amin Younes saw his cross into the area pick out Hoffman. The Kaiserslautern striker took one touch to kill the ball dead, before smashing an equally ruthless shot into the bottom corner.
It took that goal to wake England from their slow start and they began to find their rhythm.
Firstly, Lingard struck an angled shot into the side-netting after England had forced their first corner of the game.
And Danny Ings stung the hands of keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen after he was picked out by Redmond on the left. The Burnley striker worked his way inside past Christian Gunter and struck a low drive at goal, which the Barcelona stopper turned around the post.
From the resulting corner, Lingard really should have levelled as the ball found its way to him at the far post but he shot straight at ter Stegen from close range which the impressive German gathered at the second attempt.
The momentum finally resulted in a deserved equaliser in the 35th minute, when Carl Jenkinson’s purposeful run forward took him into the area. He looked up before squaring to the unmarked Lingard, who made no mistake by shooting into the bottom corner past ter Stegen.
But England were fortunate to go in level at the break, as Jonathan Bond pulled off a fine save to deny Liverpool’s Emre Can, whose free-kick from the edge of the area was heading for the top corner.
Germany started the brighter of the two sides after the break and were back in front after five minutes of the second half.
With the rain lashing down, substitute Joshua Kimmich drove forward and when Julian Korb overlapped, the pass was made and the right-back’s deflected cross into the area wasn’t claimed by either Bond or a defender, gifting Hofmann a second goal on his 22nd birthday with a straightforward slide on the line.
In response, Jenkinson made another foray forward before passing into the feet of Ings whose quick turn and shot whistled just over the bar.
Ings then did well to hold the ball up before setting up a chance for Lingard on the edge of the area, before he was quickly crowded out and the ball was cleared.
England continued to press, but found a well-organised and physically strong German side in their way.
Boro defender Ben Gibson would have brought the house down if he'd have scored, but he guided Ward-Prowse’s corner just over the bar.
Redmond then tested ter Stegen with a low shot from 25 yards, which again brought out the best from the visiting keeper.
Highlights of the game from the Riverside Stadium
Germany were forced into some desperate defending to block a shot from Lingard and then Ings, as the Three Lions searched for an equaliser.
And they made the breakthrough in the 79th minute, when the lively Redmond was picked out on the right by sub Alex Pritchard. He teased Gunter, before firing a low shot at goal which took a slight deflection off his marker and zipped into the far corner.
Three minutes later, England were ahead. A clever dummied pass forward from Jake Forster-Caskey picked out Jenkinson in unfamiliar territory on the edge of the box, but he quickly found Ward-Prowse in a yard of space inside the area. The Southampton man controlled well, before confidently rolling past ter Stegen and into the bottom corner.
It could have been four soon after, as Pritchard’s shot was fumbled by ter Stegen, straight back out to Ings but the keeper made a great recovery to save the striker’s shot.
That would certainly have flattered England and Germany will undoubtedly leave Teesside frustrated with the outcome. But these two nations could soon meet again in the Euros this summer when a repeat of this encounter would certainly be welcomed.
England Under-21s (4-3-3): 1 Jonathan Bond (Watford); 2 Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United, loan from Arsenal), 5 John Stones (Everton), 6 Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), 3 Luke Garbutt (Everton); 4 Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton & Hove Albion), 8 James Ward-Prowse (C) (Southampton), 10 Will Hughes (Derby County); 7 Jesse Lingard (Derby County, loan from Manchester United), 9 Danny Ings (Burnley), 11 Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)
Substitutes: 16 Alex Pritchard (Brentford, loan from Leicester City) for Hughes 66, 14 Michael Keane (Burnley) for Gibson 77, 12 Calum Chambers (Arsenal) for Forster-Caskey 86
Substitutes not used: 13 Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham), 15 Liam Moore (Brentford, loan from Leicester City), 17 Cauley Woodrow (Fulham)
Goals: Jesse Lingard 35, Nathan Redmond 79, James Ward-Prowse 82
Head coach: Gareth Southgate
Germany Under-21s (4-4-2): 13 Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona); 14 Julian Korb (Borussia Monchengladbach) 4 Matthias Ginter (Borussia Dortmund), 16 Robin Knoche (Wolfsburg), 3 Christian Gunter (Freiburg); 7 Leonardo Bittencourt (Hannover 96), 11 Emre Can (Liverpool), 10 Moritz Leitner (c) (Stuttgart, loan from Borussia Dortmund) 19 Amin Younes (Kaiserslautern); 20 Max Meyer (Schalke), 17 Philipp Hoffman (Kaiserslautern)
Substitutes: 22 Serge Knabry (Arsenal) for Bittencourt 46, 24 Joshua Kimmich (Leipzig) for Leitner 46, 2 Nico Schulz (Hertha Berlin) for Meyer 69, 8 Yunus Malli (FSV Mainz) for Younes 77
Substitutes not used: 23 Timo Horn (FC Koln), 25 Loris Karius (FSV Mainz), 5 Willi Orban (Kaiserslautern), 6 Johannes Geis (FSV Mainz), , 13 Jean Zimmer (Kaiserslautern), 21 Felix Klaus (Freiburg)
Goals: Philipp Hoffman 15, 50
Bookings: Moritz Leitner 20
Head coach: Horst Hrubesch
Referee: Davide Massa