England continue their upwards form on International stage …
-The Slovaks went in front with a first half header through Martin Chrien.
-Alfie Mawson bundles in the equaliser for England shortly after the break.
-A second goal followed for the Lions as Nathan Redmond was on target.
-Only England’s second win in 11 European Under-21 Championship games.
-The win in Kielce puts Aidy Boothroyd’s side on top of Group A with four
points from their opening two fixtures.
After their disappointing 0-0 opener with Sweden, it was crucial the boys in white took all three points against Slovakia, who were the group leaders after seeing off hosts Poland. Considering only four spaces are available for semi-final qualifications, it was particularly significant for England to get their first win on the table.
England bought themselves a ticket to the 2009 European Championships final but their performances since then have been nothing short of lacklustre. Most notably, both the 2011 and 2013 ended in heartbreak as they failed to progress out of the group stages.
The Three Lions were looking in danger of facing another early exit after a cagey first half against the Eastern-Europeans. Straight from kick-off England didn’t look convincing on the ball, they were ponderous in possession and showed little to no directness towards goal. After totaling only one shot in their previous game against Sweden, and when Slovakia’s Chrien’s looping header evaded Jordan Pickford in the 23rd minute, England’s hopes of progressing looked to hit another wall. Besides a 30 yard effort from Lewis Baker which sailed past goalkeeper Chovan’s post, there was very little to shout about.
Half time couldn’t come sooner for Boothroyd’s boys as the Slovaks scuppered England’s midfield and looked to have frustrated their opponents. The restart saw England make an immediate change, with what seemed to be an unorthodox substitution, proved to be a tactical game changer for the trailing side. Norwich frontman Jacob Murphy replaced Mason Holgate at right-back and it only took five minutes for the substitute to make an impact. Murphy created space down the flank before curling in a guided cross which found centre-half Alfie Mawson who tapped home. The Swansea defender netted his first ever goal for his national side, doing so in just his second cap.
Momentum was certainly now on England’s side after an early second half reply. Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham led the line with energy and high pressing of Slovakia’s back four, while Nathan Redmond’s movement and the introduction of Murphy encouraged the Three Lions to find a winner. A second goal followed on 11 minutes from the first with a swift counter attack.
Slovakia had the ball in their final third, sniffing around the edge of the area to retrieve their lead. A decisive interception by Luke Chambers cut short the attack, then offloading the ball to the halfway line, picking out the workhorse Abraham. The 6-foot-4 frontman showed great strength to keep possession, shielding the ball before placing it in the path of the incoming Ward-Prowse. The England captain raced onto the ball and played an eye-catching 40 yard diagonal to wide man Redmond.
The Southampton winger found space down the left wing behind his marker. Redmond tiptoed his way into the 18 yard box, skipping past the Slovaks right back Valjent, before unleashing a deflected effort inside the keeper’s far post. Spirits were high for Boothroyd’s youngsters, but they were forced to stand firm defensively in the closing minutes of the 90. The Eastern Europeans pressed with a spell of attacking threats, but England resisted and showed enough composure to see the game out.
The U21s final match sees them facing stiff competition from the host nation. Poland are yet to win a game in Group A, suffering an opening defeat to Slovakia 1-2 and drawing to Sweden in a 2-2 thriller. So for Poland, qualification to the knockout stages is still possible, however they are relying on other results to go their way. As for England, although they are group toppers, a win could still be essential to see them into the latter rounds.
An unbeaten run for the U21s, but how far can England go?