Young guns hit spot in five star show
CHRIS LAKEY England U-21s 5, Slovakia U21s 0England gave themselves the perfect send-off ahead of their European Championship campaign next week with a resounding and very much one-sided victory at Carrow Road last night.
England U-21s 5, Slovakia U21s 0
England gave themselves the perfect send-off ahead of their European Championship campaign next week with a resounding and very much one-sided victory at Carrow Road last night.
Stuart Pearce's team will find next week's opponents a very different proposition, but the England boss had the consolation of a hatful of goals, a staggering 27 attempts on goal - and the rare bonus of a penalty shoot-out success.
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England have so often disappointed in penalty shoot-outs at vital stage of major tournaments, as Pearce knows only too well, and decided to stage a duel under artificial conditions - after the final whistle.
It ended in a 4-3 success to England and while it will find little room in the history books, should England succeed in their Euro challenge, it might just become a regular feature.
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Pearce said: "I have been to three championships and lost two of those on penalties so for myself as a manager not to address that leading up to it and doing everything we possibly can for that possible eventuality would be folly.
"It might be the difference in us coming home early or staying in the tournament. It was common sense really and it gives us a chance to have a look at all of the players in the squad and see who we feel confident in taking the penalties."
Kieran Richardson had got a spot of practice in from the spot when he put England ahead on 35 minutes - but it's practice that makes perfect, and there are few who know that better than Pearce, who failed from the spot in the 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat by West Germany.
Pearce left the field in tears that day, but success from 12 yards in the European Championship quarter-final defeat of Spain six years later laid the ghost to rest, his celebration becoming one of the most enduring images of the era.
There's no Germany and no Spain in Holland next week, but England still have to get past the Czech Republic, Serbia and Italy to reach the semi-finals.
Slovakia also have little interest in the finals, their presence at Carrow Road serving to answer any remaining doubts over selection that Pearce may have had.
Anton Ferdinand was left on the bench as a precaution after the West Ham defender picked up a slight groin strain, with David Nugent deployed as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield marshalled by Tom Huddlestone.
It was Huddlestone who engineered England's first real chance, on 10 minutes, a neat chip into the area almost finding Nugent, keeper Lubos Kamenar just getting there in time to nick it off the Preston man's toes. Two minutes later a poor Slovakian clearance fell to Nugent again, but his first-time effort was hit straight at the keeper.
It was almost third time lucky when Nugent got on the end of a sublime Huddlestone pass from all of 50 yards but blasted a left-foot shot from close range straight into Kamenar's face.
It was Huddlestone's turn to flash a shot wide on 20 minutes, having been teed up by Nugent, while Nigel Reo-Coker flicked Justin Hoyte's cross into the side-netting from close range.
Possession was almost entirely England's in the opening half-hour and if Pearce had a concern it would have been the lack of goals, although Richardson came close to solving that conundrum when he forced Kamenar into a diving save with a shot from distance.
Nugent tried from closer range - all of six yards - but saw his shot blocked in a packed area, defender Nedum Onuoha putting the follow-up straight into the keeper.
But Richardson finally broke the deadlock on 35 minutes, putting his name down as one of the penalty takers should they be needed with a cool finish after Peter Pekarik had upended Ashley Young.
Nugent hit the side netting with a long-range effort as Slovakia came close to crumbling under the constant pressure, with England denied what looked like a certain penalty just before half-time when two Slovakian defenders combined to upend Young.
Pearce made three changes at the break, which took Young to the left flank, and within minutes he had helped set up a great chance for Nugent, who mis-kicked from close range.
But England had to wait until the hour mark for their second, Huddlestone starting the move with a sweeping ball out to Young on the left. The Aston Villa man knocked it back to Leighton Baines, whose first-time cross evaded two England players before Pekarik got a touch which landed at the feet of Reo-Coker. He knocked it home from 15 yards - and was promptly substituted.
Nugent put a header over - his eighth and final attempt without reward - and when Pearce made more substitutions on 70 minutes a painfully one-sided game was all over bar the academic matter of the final scoreline.
Leroy Lita was guilty of the miss of the night, heading wide of an empty goal from two yards, but Steven Taylor made no mistake when he slid in Wayne Routledge's cross from close range to make it 3-0 on 76 minutes.
Huddlestone got the goal his performance deserved on 81 minutes, sweeping the ball home from the edge the area, Lita made amends for his earlier miss with a fifth two minutes later and an England victory that had been on the cards from the first kick was complete.
England: Hart, Onuoha (Baines 45), Cahill, Taylor, Hoyte (Rosenior 70), Milner (Routledge 45), Reo-Coker (Lita 61), Huddlestone, Young (Whittingham 77), Richardson (Noble 45), Nugent (Derbyshire 70). Subs: Alnwick, Ferdinand, Vaughan. Goals: Richardson 35 pen, Reo-Coker 60, Taylor 76, Huddlestone 81, Lita 83.
Slovakia: Kamenar, Pekarik, Maslo, Bakos (Nemcek 88), Jonas, Izvolt (Harsanyi 71), Lisivka, Mraz, Jurco, Opiela, Jendrisek (Majtan 45). Subs: Smieska, Karlik, Viskup, Grendel. Booking: Pekarik, 62, foul on Young.
Referee: Mark Whitby (Wales)