Stuart Pearce’s England Under-21 side played their final UEFA Euro 2013 qualifier at Chesterfield last night, a head-to-head against Norway with the top of the group at stake. The hosts negated any prospect of finishing second by picking up a 1-0 win in a drab game. As a result, they won their group and are guaranteed progress to the playoff round.
They will also be seeded in the playoffs, meaning in theory that the trickier potential ties will be avoided. Despite the positive conclusion, a crowd of almost 10,000 endured a poor game with little incident and even rarer quality. For the most part, it was the Norwegians who provided the latter.
England played the first half in something approximate to a 4-3-3, with Sunderland’s Connor Wickham flanked by Martyn Waghorn and Tom Ince. It was the wide players who came closest to opening the scoring before the deadlock was finally broken by the player in between. Waghorn tested Norway goalkeeper Arild Ostbo with a huge haymaker of a striker from 25 yards that swerved viciously in the area and required a solid hand to turn over.
Ince’s opportunity was easier but squandered. Played through on goal by virtue of a misjudged defensive header, Ince had to make his mind up fast under pressure on the edge of the area, slicing his low effort just wide to keep the scores level as half time approached. England had been second best but Norway had rarely threatened. Their passing was neat, but they were not incisive enough to test Jason Steele.
To Pearce’s delight, another error would lead to England taking the advantage before the break. Waghorn did will to close down a poor clearance but the direction taken by his block was fortuitous. Wickham was lively and latched onto the loose ball in the area, made half a yard of space for himself and then fired firmly across the goalkeeper into the far bottom corner.
The story of the second half was an improved Norwegian performance, and they started to create one or two very good chances as England began to retreat. The best game with a little over 20 minutes left and came at the end of the move of the game. A quite brilliant and lightning fast one-touch passing move up the right wing resulted in the ball being cut back to Havard Nielsen. His shot from just inside the box was true and powerful, but clattered the bar rather than finding the roof of the net.
Substitute Mushaga Bakenga was on the end of the next drool-worthy move along the same flank, but his improvised right-footed shot was deflected over the crossbar. Norway now effectively facing an impossible task to win the group, Nielsen struck the last meaningful effort in stoppage time. His curling effort was a worthy attempt but bent comfortably over.
Jason Steele, Martin Kelly (Nathaniel Clyne), Danny Rose, Jonjo Shelvey, Steven Caulker, Ryan Bennett, Jordan Henderson, Connor Wickham (Tommy Lees), Martyn Waghorn (Wilfried Zaha), Tom Ince, Ben Marshall.
Final Score: England 1-0 Norway
England Goals: Wickham (43)
Norway Goals: N/A