I wrote yesterday about just how important it was for the England U21s to get off to a good start last night in Halmstad. Well, they did, but not without a real scare from the unfancied Finnish side and I’d imagine Stuart Pearce wasn’t alone in breathing a big sigh of relief at the end of that contest.
It all started so well for England, even if the might have opened the scoring against the early run of the play. Gabby Agbonlahor showed the pace and power that has tormentgeed so many Premier League defenders to get away from the full back. He had the presence of mind to look up when he got to the byline and pick out Lee Cattermole, who slid in the first goal of the tournament.
The Finns weren’t exactly looking particularly threatening, but England looked very nervous in defence. A mix-up between Michael Mancienne and Joe Hart should have alerted England to the dangers of switching off but they handed their opponents a way back into the game midway through the first half. Mancienne mishandled a seemingly harmless situation by allowing an innocuous ball to bounce in front of him and then tugged back the Finnish forward as he bore down on Hart. A penalty was inevitable and the red card that followed dealt a real blow to England’s chances of beginning with a win.
At 1-1, Finland seemed happy to settle for an unexpected point. England found it difficult to free Walcott down the flank and the sending off had obviously blunted their ability to go at Finland. Salvation came in the form of Micah Richards, who rose majestically to head home a corner and restore England’s lead. There were a few more hairy moments late on and Pearce will need no reminding that England will need to improve if they are progress in this tournament.