England U/21s 1 - 0 Belarus U/21s (half-time 0-0)
England Under-21s rounded off their preparations for the upcoming European Championship by gaining a slender 1-0 victory over their Belarus counterparts last night. After the visitors had been reduced to ten men, the home side capitalised on a goalkeeping fumble as Middlesbrough's Ben Gibson fired in the winner in the friendly. As a result, Gareth Southgate's young charges will head off to the Czech Republic in good spirits after 14 wins in their last 15 matches.
Healthy Barnsley crowd
The match provided an opportunity for the people of Barnsley to catch a glimpse of England's up and coming youngsters, with the game being played at Oakwell in front of over 15,000 spectators. They had over half an hour longer than expected to savour the pre-match atmosphere though, as the kick-off was delayed. Traffic on the M1 caused Belarus' coach to be delayed en route to the ground.
England bossed the possession for much of the match (75%-25%) as one might have expected, also creating the bulk of the chances on the night. Belarus showed plenty of application but were slightly limited in terms of their goal threat, with just one shot on goal to show for their efforts.
England had chances to score before their late goal, with Gibson seeing an early header of his go wide. The Belarus keeper was equal to additional efforts from Saido Berahino, Nathan Redmond and Luke Garbutt.
Plenty of changes
After the interval, Southgate used the opportunity to freshen up the team by introducing 8 substitutions into the action from the bench, sensibly allowing each of them at least 20 minutes of game time. With the games coming thick and fast in the Europeans, he may well need to utilise the full squad at his disposal. Ensuring that they are all back up to speed is therefore essential. Danny Ings and Harry Kane were two of the changes, both players having a thirty-minute work-out.
Sending off and goal
The key talking points of the game occurred in the last ten minutes. Belarus were reduced to ten men when Mikalai Zolatau was given his marching orders in the 82nd minute, after being handed a second yellow card. The set piece that followed led to the winning goal. Goalkeeper Uladzislau Vasiliuchak failed to hold on to the free-kick delivery into the area from Garbutt, allowing fellow defender Gibson to pounce on the loose ball and fire home.
Southgate's men held on for the win but will need to find a better rhythm one expects to succeed in the championships. At least they seemed to come through the game without picking up any major injuries, one of the essential criteria before the match began. They also battled through to the end, determined to find a winner despite the resilience showed from the Belarusian defence.
The squad will not have to wait much longer for their first match in the championships, their group fixtures being:
18th June - Portugal
21st June - Sweden
24th June - Italy
There are unlikely to be any easy matches in the group, so Southgate's first priority will no doubt be to gain a positive result from the game against Portugal. Should they lose that match, it would be an uphill struggle from thereon in. #Football #Youth