England continued their march towards next year’s UEFA U21 EURO Finals as Eddie Nketiah’s brilliant hat-trick helped the Young Lions to a comfortable 6-0 win over Kosovo in Pristina.
After a frustrating first period – in which they were the dominant force – England came out flying after half time and Nketiah notched his three goals within ten second-half minutes.
Kosovo 0-6 England MU21s
2021 U21 EURO qualifier
6pm BST, Friday 4 September
Fadil Vokrri Stadium, Pristina
Nketiah’s Arsenal teammate Reiss Nelson also got his name on the scoresheet just moments after coming off the bench and fellow substitutes Ryan Sessegnon and Jude Bellingham added glamour to the result late on.
Victory sees Aidy Boothroyd’s side leapfrog Austria, their next opponents on Tuesday, at the top of Group 3 having played a game less, and extends their unbeaten run to five games.
England enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the game’s early stages without posing too much of a threat to the Kosovan goal, but the first real chance of the game did indeed fall to the visitors with 14 minutes on the clock.
The hosts failed to clear properly from their penalty box, and Conor Gallagher picked up the loose ball before curling an effort towards the top-right corner, which goalkeeper Florjan Smakiqi steered away for a corner.
Max Aarons was next to cause problems in the Kosovo area shortly before the half-hour mark, whipping the ball towards the goal having been found unmarked on the right side by Lloyd Kelly following some excellent harrying by Nketiah.
Debutant Bukayo Saka then went close just moments later after a sumptuous flick by Arsenal teammate Nketiah fed him through on goal, but Smakiqi came out smartly to parry the 18-year-old’s effort and add to the visitors’ frustration.
Dogged defending from Leard Sadriu denied Nketiah a sight of goal two minutes before half time, and despite largely controlling the game from the off, England found themselves level at the break.
England emerged from the interval in determined mood and Gallagher volleyed their first effort of the half from close range as Boothroyd’s men pushed for the opener from the off.
Seconds later, skipper Nketiah hit the woodwork with a powerful header at the back post from Saka’s looping free-kick out wide on the left, and Kelly was next to go close from the same routine.
But the pressure finally paid off just after the 50-minute mark, as Tom Davies coolly lifted the ball across the box, finding Nketiah at the far post whose header this time found the bottom corner.
And the net was bulging again moments later courtesy of Nketiah, with Davies picking out the former Leeds loanee in space in the area, and he made no mistake in doubling his tally for the night.
Two quickly became three for Nketiah, with the 21-year-old converting calmly into the bottom right corner from the penalty spot after Gallagher was tripped clumsily by Kreshnik Hajrizi.
With the floodgates now wide open, England continued to punish Kosovo and the game was put further out of sight by substitute Nelson in the 66th minute after some silky play from Aarons down the right flank set up the Arsenal forward just moments after entering play.
Sessegnon got a fifth for England with little over eight minutes left to play, before Bellingham – on as a substitute to become the MU21s' youngest-ever player – curled a sweet effort in from the left edge of the area to add to the home side’s misery.
England: 1 Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United), 2 Max Aarons (Norwich City), 4 Ben Godfrey (Norwich City), 5 Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), 6 Tom Davies (Everton), 9 Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal) (c), 14 Todd Cantwell (Norwich City), 15 Marc Guehi (Chelsea), 16 Oliver Skipp (Norwich City - loan from Tottenham Hotspur), 17 Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), 21 Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)
Substitutes: 7 Reiss Nelson (Arsenal) for Cantwell 62', 8 Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) for Davies 62', 10 Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea) for Saka 62', 11 Ryan Sessegnon (Tottenham Hotspur) for Gallagher 71', 19 Rhian Brewster (Liverpool) for Nketiah 71'
Substitutes not used: 22 Josef Bursik (Doncaster Rovers - loan from Stoke City), 12 Tariq Lamptey (Brighton & Hove Albion), 18 James Justin (Leicester City), 20 Josh Dasilva (Brentford)
Goals: Nketiah 51', 55' & 61(pen), Nelson 66', Sessegnon 82', Bellingham 85'
Head coach: Aidy Boothroyd