It was not the start that England’s Under 21 side wanted, but it could have been a whole lot worse after today’s close shave against a Finland side full of surprises. By finding themselves in the toughest of the two groups with Spain and Germany, this was the game that Stuart Pearce would have targeted as a must win match. With a side full of Premiership regulars including Micah Richards, Theo Walcott, Lee Catermole and captained by West Ham’s prodigious midfielder David Noble, this is a squad that great things are expected of.
The Finns certainly made sure that no-one in the camp will forget this clash in a hurry as England were fortunate to escape will 3 points. England looked shocked and reverted to type by simply humping the ball forward and hoping for the best. With Walcott and Agbonlahor in the side, pace is a weapon the Under 21’s can utilise but they’ll need a different perspective to get past the other two sides. It’s so frustrating when you see such talented players revert to type and the dreaded long ball game.
The fact they were playing side that were taller all through the side, especially the impressive striker Sadik, made the long ball a waste of the ball. Sadik was impressive throughout the game and he caused the back four of Cranie, Mancienne, Richards and Gibbs problems all game. The Young Lions had been on the back foot from the kick off and were extremely fortunate to take the lead through Cattermole’s drive but they were caught out when Mancienne was correctly shown a red card for a professional foul after a mix up between the Chelsea prospect and Joe Hart in the England goal.
Former Southampton youngster Tim Sparv made no mistake from the resulting penalty and it looked like the writing was on the wall for Stuart Pearce’s boys but they hung on until half time. Walcott who had another disappointing 45 minutes was replaced by Frazier Campbell and amazingly England took the lead when Micah Richards powered the ball home from a corner. After that, it was a case of desperate defending with Martin Cranie, the Portsmouth prospect, superb after being moved to centre back after the sending off. Finland probably deserved the win, so must be feeling so low after losing this game in Hamlstad.
For a side brimming with so much top level experience it was a strange display. Maybe it was nerves, perhaps they were over confident but England were lacking any real drive and quality in possession. Noble tried his best in midfield, but once they went a man down it was all hands to the pump. Cranie though can be delighted with his performance as he seemed to be everywhere in defence, breaking up moves, throwing himself at the ball and tackling back consistently well.
Pearce was candid and honest after the game, saying that it was nowhere near good enough but he’ll be happy to escape with the three points. Yet he must be frustrated with some of the players who started the game whose reputations certainly preceded them to Sweden for this tournament. He’ll certainly need to get the players going for Thursday’s clash against the favourites Spain, a repeat performance could see England humbled in Gothenburg