An early second-half strike from Tottenham‘s midfield wonderkid Tom Carroll (currently on-loan at Swansea City) was enough to seal a victory for Gareth Southgate and his young men, on an intriguing night of football in the Czech Republic.
In the first-half, the Young Lions got off to a decent start, utilising Norwich winger Nathan Redmond‘s blistering pace to their upper hand down the flanks, as he got past his marker with ease every time he got on the ball and drove forward dribbling on the attack. Fulham‘s Cauley Woodrow had a goal-scoring opportunity early on as his touch set him past a defender in the box, but he fired his effort narrowly wide of the goalkeeper’s far corner, flashing above the crossbar and out for a goal-kick.
Woodrow was a constant pest to the Czech backline in the first-half, where his workrate and acceleration were a devastating combo which the hosts had to bring to a halt, and the only way they could muster this was by fouling him, amongst other players, in an attempt to slow down the fast-attacking tempo of the match. Fulham’s startlet was unlucky not to score in the first 45 minutes, and the only real criticism of England’s youth would be that their final ball was not good enough to warrant them going ahead. Watford striker Matej Vydra went closest for the hosts, but saw his shot cleared off the line mid-way through proceedings in the first-half.
Arsenal‘s young and talented defender Calum Chambers acted as a defensive anchor to help Redmond whenever the winger was in danger of losing the ball, or needed support from a team-mate, the former So’ton man was always there in the right place at the right time, as well as providing an attacking threat with his bursting runs forward into space on the wing.
Soon after the restart, Chambers proved his attacking qualities. A well-driven, low cross was fired into the box, and the Czech defenders were unable to get the ball clear, before it fell into the path of Carroll, whose low fizzing effort beat the goalkeeper and bounced into the back of the net. In the goalmouth scramble leading up to the goal, Carroll unfortunately picked up a knock and was not risked by Southgate, who replaced him with Derby‘s highly-rated Will Hughes.
Hughes instantaneously got amongst the thick of things and unselfishly squared a pass towards the path of Alex Pritchard, who had an effort from close-range denied by a goal-line catch courtesy of the quick reactions from Jiri Pavlenka.
England made a triple substitution to try and shore up things; Carl Jenkinson, Jesse Lingard and Danny Ings all entering the fray in place of Chambers, Pritchard and Woodrow – who had played well in all honesty.
A Czech counter attack almost caught the visitors out, but a neatly-placed through ball found the run of Jiri Svalák who was quite clearly under pressure to take a shot, rushed the contact and fired over the bar – not troubling debutant Marcus Bettinelli in the England goal.
Lingard was very unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet with a few minutes left to play; Redmond got the better of his marker once more and floated a chipped cross towards the Manchester United youngster, whose effort was denied by a dramatic goal-line clearance as the hosts hoofed the ball clear. With time running out, England held out for a 1-0 victory, with Bettinelli getting a clean sheet which is sure to increase his morale, despite not being troubled for the most part in fairness.
Despite all of the media criticism, England’s U21‘s give cause for excitment towards the future. Following on from this result, they host Germany in Middlesbrough on Monday night.