England broke into a comprehensive 3-0 win over Albania that almost secured their qualification for next summer’s European Under-21 Championships. A double from Arsenal youngster Folarin Balogun and a double from Cameron Archer put the seal on a comfortable win at Chesterfield.
Lee Carsley’s side need just one point from their final two games to mathematically secure their place in Georgia and Romania, but three points here have effectively secured their safe passage with a second consecutive 3-0 success over Albania.
Hull City’s Keane Lewis-Potter had to be patient for the appearance of his first Three Lions on English soil, coming off the bench in the final 10 minutes to claim his second cap. By that point, England’s quality had already seen them walk well away from their brave opponents, and three goals from close range were the least they deserved for a dominant, elegant display.
It took England’s best 45 minutes to finally take one of their first 13 half-chances, and it came from a defensive error that saw Emile Smith Rowe grab possession inside the box before rolling over for his Arsenal teammate Folarin Balogun to power. enen. from close range.
By that point, England had enjoyed 75 per cent of the ball and started on the front foot. Albania’s intention was clear within a minute with each player camping in his own half behind the ball. Anthony Gordon was first to go close, firing wide before Smith Rowe narrowly missed getting the opener and Thomas Doyle trying desperately to get himself on the score sheet, but apparently going further and further away from goal with every passing effort.
Liverpool’s Curtis Jones, clearly desperate to impress, almost tried too hard to catch the eye of Three Lions boss Lee Carsley, and it was again Smith Rowe who caught the eye, drifting from side to side at the heart of everything the hosts did. . forward. After a quick start by Carsley’s men, the game began to drift but Smith Rowe’s quick thinking allowed him to capitalize on some poor defense to give Balogun the easiest of finishes.
To their credit, and backed by vocal away support, Albania came close to shocking the hosts as Adolf Selmani headed just wide on the break-in, a mild reminder that they were still in a contest they should have been well out.
England’s first change of the game came at a time when the great Smith Rowe was replaced by Morgan Gibbs-White, to a warm reception from the Sheffield United fans in attendance.
Keane Lewis-Potter has been left on the bench again by boss Lee Carsley as his wait for a first under-21 start continues, though with qualification almost assured, he will hope to be rewarded for his patience on Monday night as the group finishes against Slovenia in Huddersfield.
The game was effectively put to bed with 25 minutes left when Balogun notched his second of the night, after Gibbs-White hung a cross to the back post for Charlie Cresswell to overtake the goalkeeper and the Arsenal youngster was there to nod inside from a court outside.
A minute later and Balogun took a card to go with his brace from referee Ivar Orri Kristjansson for a quarrel with the somewhat extravagant Adolf Selmani, a player who enjoyed the physical side of the game all evening. Jimmy Garner and Cameron Archer were next for England with 18 minutes left, replacing Balogun and Liverpool ace Curtis Jones.
It was 3-0 with a punt more than 10 minutes left when the genius Gordon sprang to the left before pulling a cross for Archer to turn it at the next post. So good was Gordon, the frustrated Dobra chopped him down again out of the box and took a well-deserved second yellow card, and he stepped away for an early bath.
On came Lewis-Potter to replace Gordon, while there was also a cameo for Leicester City’s Luke Thomas, and the Tiger man was straight into the action, looking to form himself a chance from the edge of the box before being blocked out of danger.
City’s home ace almost created another opening only to be dropped on the edge of the box, and from the advantage played by then referee, Garner could not profit.
This was a job well done by England and with Kosovo coming on Friday evening ahead of their visit to Slovenia next week, planning can begin for their tenth consecutive final campaign.
England starting XI: Bursik, Harwood-Bellis, Balogun, Smith-Rowe, Gordon, Spence, Cresswell, Johnson, Jones, Doyle, Gomes. Substitutes: Trafford, Aarons, Thomas, Hill, Garner, Gibbs-White, Ramsey, Archer, Lewis-Potter