England C suffered late heartache on Sunday as Slovakia U21 substitute Michal Fasko fired in a 97th-minute winner in a see-saw thriller.
Non-League’s Three Lions went a goal down before turning it around to lead 3-1 at Sutton United.
But they couldn’t hold on as the talented Slovakian side roared back.
England C 3-4 Slovakia U21s
International Challenge Trophy
Sunday 5 June 2016
Gander Green Lane, Sutton United FC
Substitute Fakos had already levelled the game before a free-kick from inches outside the box gave him the chance to fire his side to a valuable three points in the International Challenge Trophy.
“It was very cruel, but it is football,” said England C manager Paul Fairclough.
“The lads really put in a shift. Slovakia are top of their Under-21 Euro qualifying group so we were against a red hot team.
“But you’ve got to give Slovakia credit. They came back and took their chances really well.”
After Dover Athletic’s Sean Raggett was forced out through injury, Fairclough opted to pick the same back four – as well as keeper Brandon Hall – that started the 2-0 win against Ukraine back in March.
His midfield two of captain Alex Woodyard and Jake Gallagher was also unchanged, along with Swindon Town-bound midfielder John Goddard.
So it meant three debutants in the starting XI, all who played in the National League North last season.
Boston United’s Dayle Southwell led the line, while Alfreton midfielder Joe Leesley won his first cap along with Nuneaton Town’s Elliott Whitehouse.
Slovakia drew with Ukraine in midweek, so the Three Lions knew a win would guarantee a top two finish and a place in the ICT final.
But they found themselves behind after 18 minutes. Slovakia worked the ball well in the box and when Lucas Haraslin picked it up, he fired beyond Hall into the far corner.
The Three Lions were soon level however. Goddard got to the byline and stood up a cross that evaded everyone. Ben Heneghan collected it at the far post and looped the ball back into the box where his centre-half partner was under the bar to head in.
It was a telling contribution from the Bromley defender, but his final one of the afternoon as a knock meant he was immediately replaced by Louis John. It was quite the whirlwind for the Sutton United man, who was a late call-up on Saturday for Raggett.
And it got even better for him on 38 minutes when he got on the end of Sam Habergham’s cross to put England into the lead by forcing the ball over the line.
England extended their lead six minutes into the second half. Whitehouse broke up the left and played the ball inside the box, where Southwell dummied and Leesley’s shot was turned behind by Marek Rodak.
But it was a brief stay of execution for the visitors, when John headed in from the corner.
The two-goal cushion didn’t last long though, as Tomas Huk cut the lead from a corner at the other end.
Hall made a good save to keep out substitute Tomas Brigant but there was nothing he could do on 75 minutes when Fasko got clear and finished into the bottom corner.
Hemel Hempstead Town keeper Jamie Butler then got the nod from the bench and he had to tip over Stanislav Lobtoka’s shot from 25 yards.
And Fasko didn’t pass the opportunity up as he smashed in the winner from a late free-kick, meaning England C now know a win in Estonia in November is a must if they are to set-up a revenge date with Slovakia in the final.
England C: Brandon Hall (Jamie Butler 76); James Bolton (Dan Wishart 54), Ben Heneghan, Jack Holland (Louis John 29), Sam Habergham; Jake Gallagher, Alex Woodyard, Joe Leesley, Elliott Whitehouse (Dan Sweeney 70), Dayle Southwell (Jordan Williams 79), John Goddard
Goals: Holland 28, John 38, 52
Slovakia U21: Marek Rodak (Adrian Chovan 60), Martin Valjent, Lukas Skovajsa, Martin Chrien (Michal Fasko 59), Filip Lesniak, Tomas Huk (Stanislav Lobotka 79), Lucas Haraslin (Tomas Brigant 60), Pavol Safranko, Juraj Chvatal, Robert Polievka (Nicolas Spalek 46), Denis Vavro
Subs not used: Lubomir Satka, Robert Mazan,
Goals: Haraslin 18, Huk 55, Fasko 75, 90+7