England wrap up victory in Colchester
European U21 Championship qualifying England 3 Lithuania 0 ENGLAND’s Under-21s secured a vital victory in Colchester this afternoon thanks to three second half goals over Lithuania.
The comprehensive win at The Weston Homes Community Stadium, combined with results elsewhere going England’s way, means Stuart Pearce’s side have secured a place in a winner takes all play-off match next month.
Stuart Pearce’s side dominated this match throughout, but had to wait until the second half to get on the scoresheet.
Sunderland’s on loan Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck broke the deadlock in the 61st minute with a smart finish, before substitute Marc Albrighton slid home a second 12 minutes from time.
And the win was wrapped up in style in stoppage time when Jordan Henderson back-heeled a ball in to the path of Welbeck to convert.
The young Three Lions knew they had to win this encounter and hope that their goal difference was good enough for them to be confirmed as one of the four best second placed sides in the 10 qualifying groups.
They will now go through to a round of play-offs to determine whether they qualify for next summer’s European Championships in Denmark.
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Manager Stuart Pearce stuck with the same side that kept alive their European Championship qualifying hopes last Friday with a 1-0 win in Portugal, with Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere once again having to settle for a place on the bench.
Facing a Lithuanian side that held them to a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture, it was nervy start from England who required a great saving tackle from Blackburn centre-back Phil Jones to deny dangerous left-winger Fedor Cernych in the ninth minute.
The hosts soon settled into a rhythm though and Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge – the scorer of the all important winner in Portugal – who was guilty of a bad miss in the 11th minute when, with plenty of time and space, he pulled his shot wide from a glorious position.
With England looking to stamp their authority on the game, Lithuania were forced into picking up two quick bookings in succession in the 14th minute as they cynically stopped fledgling attacks.
Maurauding Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker had a soft appeal for a penalty turned down, before England created two good openings just before the half hour as first Jones headed a Tom Cleverley corner just wide before Michael Mancienne forced full-stretch save from the keeper with a low 25-yard strike.
The hosts continued to dominate and they came closer still in the 33rd minute when a well-worked short free-kick on the edge of the box between Sturridge and Danny Welbeck ended with Tottenham’s Danny Rose firing just over the bar.
Lithuania had barely had a meaningful attack since the early stages, but they almost took the lead in the 37th minute when towering centre-back Mantas Fridrikas saw a speculative long-range free-kick from the right deceive Blackburn keeper Frank Fielding only to come back off the near post.
England knew they had to go for it in the second half, with Pearce bringing on Wilshere for Walker and switching about his side.
Four minutes after the restart Rose – who had been moved into a supporting striker’s role – saw a fierce shot blocked following some wonderfully intricate build-up in the box, while moments later Cleverley saw a curling effort from the left just tipped over the bar.
As the rain came down, England continued to ask all the questions and Sturridge came mightily close when his powerful effort from just outside the area flew past the post.
The Chelsea striker saw a close range effort blocked by the keeper’s legs having been slid in by Cleverley soon afterwards, while Welbeck didn’t get any real conviction on a header after the keeper came and missed a cross.
It looked like it was going to be one of those days for England before they finally broke the deadlock thanks to a piece of magic from sub Wilshere. The Arsenal midfielder slipped Welbeck through with a brilliantly weighted outside of the boot pass and the Sunderland loanee produced a fine finish across the keeper.
Speedy Aston Villa winger Marc Albrighton came on in the 64th minute and his pace and crossing caused plenty of problems as Welbeck twice went close from his deliveries.
Sandwiched between those chances, Sturridge had the ball in the back of the net following a fine Rose pass but was denied by the offside flag.
England continued to press for a second and, after visiting keeper Vytautas Cerniauskas almost spilled a Welbeck shot into his net, the hosts did eventually double their advantage when Albrighton converted Welbeck’s low cross at the far post.
And the victory was rounded off in style in stoppage time when Sunderland’s Henderson back-heeled a ball into the path of Welbeck to score.
England (4-4-2): Fielding; Walker (Wilshere 46), Bertrand, Smalling, Jones; Cleverley (Albrighton 64), Rose, Mancienne (cpt), Henderson; Sturridge (Cork 77), Welbeck.
Unused Subs: Kelly, Smithies, Muamba, Delfouneso.
Booked: Jones (39).
Lithuania (4-1-4-1): Cerniauskas; Vaitkunas, Andriuskevicius, Klimavicius (cpt), Fridrikas; Zulpa (Jasaitis 87), Novikovas, Chvedukas, Cernych (Brokas 82), Urbaitis; Eliosius.
Unused Subs: Vitkauskas, Miskinis, Mastianica, Biskys, Gailius.
Booked: Klimavicius (14), Eliosius (14), Zulpa (21).
Man-of-the-Match: Danny Welbeck
Referee: Matej Jug (Slovenia)