Lansbury, Caulker and Oxlade-Chamberlain keep Young Lions roaring in Pearce’s absence
As Stuart Pearce headed for bed on Monday evening, he had secured himself a little piece of history, by simply writing on two pieces of paper.
The significance? Both were England team-sheets, one for Pearce’s new caretaker role, as he took the England seniors baton for their crunch friendly with Holland, while the other was for the day job, preparing England Under-21’s for their Euro 2013 qualifier with Belgium Under-21’s. In naming two England lineups on the same day, Pearce sketches his name into history.
Yet as ‘Physco’ watched the household names of Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry and Scott Parker get outplayed and beaten by a Holland side who struggled to get out of second gear, the Under-21’s kept the Three Lions roaring, by thrashing a capable Belgium side 4-0, under the watchful eye of respected FA coach Brian Eastick, and Everton stalwart Phil Neville, who had been asked to step into the fold this week.
The duo of Eastick and Neville proved to be a positive force, using the team-sheet provided to them by Pearce, which included a début for Ivory Coast-born Crystal Palace flyer Wilfried Zaha, but using their coaching nous to best effect, not tactically imprisoning players, but allowing them to express themselves.
It took just nine minutes to pay dividends, when West Ham midfielder Henri Lansbury, on loan from Arsenal, cut in from the left touch line and drilled an effort over the back-pedaling Koen Casteels from all of 35-yards. The effervescent Lansbury said he meant it, but the majority of the 22,647 crowd at the Riverside didn’t believe him. 1-0.
Belgium proved themselves as a lively but naive force, with powerful striker Christian Benteke the only real threat, until West Brom centre half Craig Dawson flicked Lansbury’s corner into the path of his defensive partner Steven Caulker, who nodded home from a matter of yards. 2-0. It was all too easy.
The half time break came and went with no changes, but England struggled to regain their flow, gifting possession away all to easily to a Belgium side tipped for big things.
Eastick needed to switch things up, and did, telling the exciting Zaha to try his luck on the right wing just after the 50 minute mark. 180 seconds later, Zaha had twisted and turned fragile full-back Laurens De Bock, and fizzed the ball into the path of Lansbury, to lash home from close range. 3-0. Job done.
Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey then got a glimpse of his new home ground after replacing Zaha later on, following his loan move to Middlesbrough last week. Aston Villa’s classy play-maker Gary Gardner and Manchester United poacher Will Keane also collected much needed minutes, before Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sealed a comprehensive 4-0 win by winning and then scoring a penalty, with the last kick of the game.
All in all, a superb 90 minutes, that puts England Under-21’s on the cusp of qualifying for Euro 2013. Eastick will have lots to report back to Pearce, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and début boy Zaha both proving to be a direct danger out wide, while Swansea loanees Caulker and Josh McEachan were tidy and showed promise.
However, the real star of the night was Lansbury, the Arsenal-owned box-to-box midfield maestro currently serving as back up goalkeeper at West Ham, having kept a clean sheet during 30 minutes of Championship action between the sticks last week. He once again overshadowed Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, who while technically good and full of running, contributed none of the ability his £20m price tag suggests he has.
This England group has talent, attitude and real invention – the key now is for Pearce not stifle it as he has done so many times before, when he re-takes the role of turning England hopefuls into England certainties.Tagged in: alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, england, football, Gareth Barry, Henri Lansbury, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Stuart Pearce
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