Walcott underlines promise with goal

England Under-21s 2 Moldova Under-21s 2THEO Walcott underlined his promise as a top international striker of the future by firing in England's opener just three minutes into his Under-21s debut at Portman Road last night.

By Derek Davis

England Under-21s 2 Moldova Under-21s 2

THEO Walcott underlined his promise as a top international striker of the future by firing in England's opener just three minutes into his Under-21s debut at Portman Road last night.

David Nugent headed in a second goal after Serghei Alexeev had equalised but substitute Alexandr Tislis levelled once more for Moldova in the European Championship qualifier.

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Walcott's controversial inclusion in the World Cup squad in Germany is still causing discussion and was widely regarded as one of the costliest mistakes in Sven Goran-Eriksson's failed tenure as England boss.

The 17-year-old who has not played a competitive senior match for Arsenal since his £12m move from Southampton in January must have been delighted to at last get a game, with his last action a substitute role for the England seniors in May.

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It took him just two minutes and 27 seconds to make his mark at this level when he got his head to a Leighton Baines cross after good work from Tom Huddlestone, to put England ahead.

Although quick, Walcott's touch let him down in the few other times he got involved before being replaced by Cameron Jerome in the 67th minute.

The goal apart, the first half was rather flat. Moldova thought they had equalised in the ninth minute when Igor Bugaiov tapped in after Alexandru Gatcan had headed against a post, but it was disallowed for an earlier push.

Scott Carson caused a moment's concern when he fumbled a Serghei Alexeev cross but dropped on the ball before it could cross the line.

England might have had a second just before half-time when Preston's David Nugent nutmegged a defender before rolling the ball across goal but Wayne Routledge could not get to the tap-in.

Moments later Palace winger Routledge tried to find him with a curling cross but Nugent was inches away from connecting.

England started the second half at a quicker and more determined tempo with Anton Ferdinand hitting a chance well wide. Tom Huddlestone was not far over the bar with a tremendous 30-yard drive and Steve Taylor went close after some good play and a decent cross from Nugent.

But it was the Moldovans who found an equaliser in the 75th minute when Newcastle's Steven Taylor gave the ball away and Alexeev finished with a chip over Carson.

England were back ahead immediately when the impressive Nugent beat the keeper with a downward header from a Cameron Jerome cross.

Substitute Alexandr Zislis had only been on the pitch seconds when he equalised for the Moldovans again with his first touch.

Darren Ambrose had previously netted twice in nine Under-21 appearances but started on the bench and received a huge ovation when he was introduced in place of David Bentley as the teams went to restart after England's second goal.

His best friend and Charlton team-mate Darren Bent was originally in this squad but Wayne Rooney's absence in the senior squad meant the former Town favourite was promoted and could come off the bench against Greece at Old Trafford tonight.

It was also a big night for the mascots who came out holding hands with the two skippers. Adam Frost (nine) led out the England team with Nigel Reo-Coker and Lewis Roberts headed the Moldovan side with Vitalie Bordian, onto the Portman Road pitch.

Although not raising a vast amount of money, the match was a bonus for the Blues coffers with Jim Magilton working hard at spending his burgeoning budget by bringing in new players.

England needed to get off to a good start in this condensed qualifying stage for the European Championship finals to be held in Holland next summer.

Peter Taylor's side also meet Switzerland away in their three-team group and then need to win one play-off game to get to the final, which will consist of eight teams.

Taylor's first match in charge of the young England side was against Moldova 10 years ago when they won 2-0 in Chisinau. Among that side were the likes of Shaun Newton, Michael Duberry, Ricardo, Scimeca, Bruce Dyer, Lee Bowyer and Darren Eadie. But also Chris Holland, Graham Potter and Mark Ford - whatever happened to them?

Southend United manager Steve Tilson was Taylor's assistant for the match but how long that arrangements lasts depends on if and when Steve McClaren finds a full-time manager for Taylor's job.

Last night's teams

England Under-21s: Carson, Richards, Baines, Taylor, Ferdinand, Huddlestone, Reo-Coker, Routledge, Walcott (Jerome, 67) Nugent and Bentley (Ambrose, 76). Subs not used: Hoyte, Davies, Watson and Milner.

Moldova Under-21s: Cebanu, Bordian, Golovatenco, Bulgaru, Epureanu, Namasco, Tgirlas (Bolohan, 90) Gatcan, Bugaiov (Zislis, 85) Alexeev and Suvorov Onica, 63) Subs not used: Namasco, Soltanici, Bolohan, Rudac and Secrieru.

Referee: Vusal Aliyev (Azerbaijan).

Attendance: 13,556.

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