England U21 2-1 Slovakia U21: Five positives from England’s first win
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 19/06/17 11:39pm
England came from behind to beat Slovakia 2-1 and keep their hopes alive in the European Under-21 Championships in Poland.
Martin Chrien's near-post header from a corner left England trailing at the break and facing elimination but goals from Alfie Mawson and Nathan Redmond turned it around.
With the help of former England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce, we pick out five reasons why Aidy Boothroyd should be encouraged by this victory…
Young Lions claim crucial win
England bounced back from falling behind to beat Slovakia 2-1 thanks to goals from Alfie Mawson and Nathan Redmond in their European Under-21 Championship group game.
Delivering under pressure
Having drawn the first game, England knew that another draw would mean progression would be out of their hands. Defeat would put them out. So when Slovakia took a lead into the half-time interval, fear of failure could have crippled them. Instead they stepped it up. "They played this game under a lot of pressure, make no mistake about that," said Pearce.
"When you don't win the first game and you go in against a team that have got three points on the board, they have a bit of a glow about them because they can play with more freedom than you can. We handled that after going a goal down. We showed character to come through that." That will be a huge positive for Boothroyd.
Substitution turns the game
The coach himself deserves some credit for the turnaround, making the decision to bring on winger Jacob Murphy in a right-back role. It was an attacking substitution that reaped dividends within minutes when Redmond laid the ball back to the Norwich man and he delivered an accurate cross into the box that Mawson converted at the second attempt.
"It was a bold substitution and credit to him," said Pearce, acknowledging that Boothroyd had gambled. "Murphy showed that he wasn't a right-back. We rode our luck a little bit with him playing there but he had the desired effect. He put the cross in that got us back in the game and gave everyone a lift."
Mawson produced again
The goalscorer Mawson is developing something of a reputation in front of goal having been one of only three centre-backs to find the net four or more times in the last Premier League season. Despite being the oldest player in the England squad, the 23-year-old Swansea man only made his Under-21 debut last year. His rise continues.
"Mawson has done very well both defensively and in the opposition box over the two games," said Pearce. Indeed, he was a reassuring and vocal presence in the England box as Slovakia put pressure on Boothroyd's team in the final stages. Mawson's leadership qualities could be as important as his knack for popping up with goals.
Abraham is an asset
At the other end, England's youngest player is also impressing. Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham was involved in England's winner, holding the ball up to set the side on their way to a quick counter-attack, and his pace and strength are considerable assets. He got more support than against Sweden and responded by showing his quality.
"I have got to say that Abraham has been very good with his hold-up play," said Pearce. "He's been up there on his own and he has not got his goal over the two games but he doesn't half work hard for the side. He was being roughed up a fair bit by the defenders but the ball stuck 99 per cent of the time. I was impressed."
England U21 vs Poland U21
June 22, 2017, 7:00pm
England on the break
Abraham's ability coupled with the pace of Redmond and others in support means that England are well suited to a counter-attacking game. That could be significant in the latter stages in Poland because while Boothroyd's men have struggled to break down stubborn resistance they might have the pace and power to unlock more adventurous opponents.
"When the games open up a little bit our players flourish a touch more," said Pearce. "Where we have struggled over these two games is where the opposition players have backed up and we have not found that clever pass when there are bodies there. If you open up against us, you've got a big problem."