England U21s 0 Netherlands U21s 0: James Maddison helps Young Lions edge a step closer European Championship finals on Carrow Road return
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It could almost have been stage-managed. James Maddison turned penning his own scripts into an art form in the green and yellow.
The Canaries' reigning player-of-the-year and club record sale strode to the centre circle alone to get England U21s European Championship qualifier underway on Thursday night, against their Dutch counterparts on his Carrrow Road homecoming.
The goals and the assists last season for Daniel Farke's squad told only part of his story.
The influence he wielded on his team mates and fans was all-consuming at times. Perhaps too much. Both parties are still in the process of weaning themselves off Maddison's unerring ability to dictate games with his craft, guile and prodigious skill.
Both were rationed in the first half here for the Young Lions on a wet, miserable night against slick visitors. Maddison's name was cheered to the rafters prior to the opening kick, once the anthems had reverberated around this corner of Norfolk.
Many you sense had come for one more glimpse of the Leicester City midfielder, who appears to be handling the rarefied air of the Premier League with the same assurance he dominated Championship contests until his huge exertions took a toll down the stretch.
Maddison looked brimful of confidence in the early sparring. There was a constant dialogue with Foxes' club mate and close friend Demarai Gray as the pair tried to work out how best to attack the orange shirts behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
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Maddison's first flash of inspiration saw him glide away from PSV Eindhoven powerhouse Pablo Rosario before gathering the ball from captain Lewis Cook and unleashing a rising shot high into the River End.
Gray then turned on the afterburners to surge clear down the right. Maddison was off in hot pursuit but his dart to the near post was anticipated just in time by Jeremiah St Juste, who diverted the ball the wrong side of the post for Aidy Bothroyd's men.
Maddison himself had admitted in the build up to his first competitive return he still has plenty to learn and much to prove. Bothroyd also sought to dampen the rising clamour for a full England call.
That competitive edge to complement the technical grace saw him admonished by the referee in the 17th minute for a high boot on Rosario. Maddison pleaded innocence. Justice rather than clemency was the nature of his appeal much later in the half when he tumbled outside the Dutch penalty box but the official remained unmoved.
The midfielder beat the turf in frustration; in part perhaps at the growing dominance of the visitors. Reverse gear was not what the majority had come to see at Carrow Road, but Maddison never once shirked his defensive duties in front of Ben Chilwell down the England left.
It was first half stoppage time before he could trot across to take a fresh chorus of acclaim as he prepared to deliver an England corner. Another rising shot in front of the Barclay on the restart raised the decibel levels from the 16,369 in attendance and prompted a musical burst from the England band.
That ability to move centre stage was one of the traits that separated him from the rest of his Norwich team mates and earned him his mega money summer move. Maddison's sense or urgency typified England's collective bid to disrupt the Dutch rhythm. Teun Koopmeiners crudely halted his progress but a 25 yard free kick flew over the top.
Maddison was now demanding the ball from those in white shirts. One half-turn and pass fashioned space for Chilwell but Calvert-Levin clipped his effort behind.
But the Dutch held firm. Dean Henderson remained vigilant at the other end as another former son of Norfolk, Angus Gunn, watched from the sidelines.
Bothroyd opted to shuffle in search of a winner. Maddison made way for Liverpool's Dominic Solanke. There was the odd boo from the Main Stand before a ringing endorsement for Maddison's efforts; not just on the night but for the Canaries. His football delighted. His fee eased the financial pressure considerably. There may have been no fairytale ending on this occasion. But there will be plenty more chapters to come.
Possibly next summer in Italy and San Marino, where these U21 European Championships conclude.
Despite a Carrow Road stalemate, England remain five points clear of the Dutch with only three qualifying games left. Now that would be a stage for Maddison to shine.