For 67 minutes an England U21 team packed with Premier League regulars toiled against an Andorra team comprised of part-timers.
In a European Championship qualifier one degree below must-win, Rhian Brewster had missed two really good opportunities against an obdurate home defence before being harshly sent off for a perceived elbow just as Arsenal’s Folarin Balogun was about to replace him.
On the ground that provided a nadir for Aidy Boothroyd’s reign just over a year ago, when several of those involved this evening drew 3-3, the new head coach Lee Carsley was staring at the potential of an early embarrassment against a team that had failed to score a single goal in their four previous qualifiers.
Then Emile Smith Rowe polished off the game’s sole moment of quality in an international break in which his head coach had called on him to replicate his Arsenal form.
It was a finish of impressive calmness and composure from the Hale End graduate as he received possession from substitute Curtis Jones at the end of a blistering counterattack with England capitalising on the space left by a very rare foray forward from their hosts.
“With any wide player, they are always judged on goals and assists and Emile has the ability to do both,” Carsley said. I’ve seen him in training, he finishes like a centre forward but he also has the last pass. That’s why I’m keen on getting him in those positions more often. The more we can get him one v one, he can create a lot of problems at Arsenal.”
Even before Brewster’s odd dismissal, for a second yellow card after what the referee Igor Stojchevski perceived to have been an elbow into the face of Eric Vales when battling for a pass forward, England had struggled to create enough clear chances and the best two were spurned by the former Chelsea academy player.
Conor Gallagher lacked his usual energy in midfield, while Cole Palmer was the pick of a flat first half in which the visiting defence had nothing to do. Carsley referred to his team having 80% possession and 15 shots against a side that did not register a single attempt and while he was “definitely” relieved to depart with a win there were several other positives to take.
“The idea is to win every game but we didn’t make it easy tonight at times,” he said. “They were tough and stubborn to break down. We did one session on breaking a low block, deep runs and getting through that back line basically, finishing and creating chances.
“It was pleasing that was the one goal we did get was a counter from one of their times coming out to try and score. It was a great finish by Emile and excellent from Curtis as well.”
Next up England face group leaders Czech Republic in Burnley and a far more cohesive performance is required if they are to defeat far sterner opposition but the former Everton and Ireland midfielder believes the team spirit is strong and his only bugbear is not having more time to work with them on the training pitch.
“There will be a few more bumps in the road,” he added. “We’re looking forward to playing every game. Looking forward to playing at home, hopefully get a good crowd at Burnley and put on a show for them.”
Source by Football London