England's under 21 side scraped a narrow victory in the first leg of their Euro 2015 play-off on Friday against a strong and technically gifted Croatian team. They did it the hard way though, having to come from a goal behind before sealing a slender advantage to take into the second leg in Vinkovci next Tuesday. Coach Gareth Southgate had implored the Molineux crowd to get behind his team in the run up to the game, especially putting aside any bad feeling that they would normally have for West Brom's young talent, Saido Berahino playing up front for the national side. That they did as they celebrated with him as he drilled home the decisive penalty late on in the match.
Southgate's young charges had achieved a near perfect record in their qualification for the play-offs, with nine wins and a draw, so expectations were high of a positive result against their Croatia opponents. They surprisingly went behind on 13 minutes though from a corner, as Marko Livaja found space in the area to glance a header home after a flick on from compatriot Niko Datkovic.
The goal stung England into action and defender Luke Shaw was unlucky to see his shot hit the post after neat interplay with the stylish Will Hughes. Norwich City's lively winger Nathan Redmond almost scored but found the opposition's keeper in determined mood to keep him out and so too were their rival's defence as a Hughes shot was charged down.
It was not all one way traffic though and the Croatians were still dangerous in patches. Indeed, England were thankful for goalkeeper Jack Butland's smart reflexes as the half ended, when he tipped 17 year old talent Ante Coric's shot over the bar. Coric became the youngest goal scorer in Europa League history in September, when he scored for Dinamo Zagreb against Astra Giurgiu, so was always going to be one of the players to watch on the Croatian side in this tie.
Trailing at the break 1-0, England took until the 57th minute before beginning to turn the tie around through a headed equaliser from Spurs' in form striker Harry Kane. They continued to press with Redmond first shooting from distance and then providing Kane with another chance, but neither were converted into goals. #Football
The match was won, but Southgate and his young men will need to play well to ensure that their slight lead going into the second leg is not overturned by a bright and lively Croatian team, who showed more than enough in the first leg to suggest it could be a tricky task ahead.