Sep 5 2013
Gareth Southgate got off to a winning - if unspectacular - start to life at the England Under-21s helm with a 1-0 victory over Moldova.
A day after Football Association chairman Greg Dyke bemoaned the state of the national game, the Young Lions looked technically proficient but lacked a cutting edge as they kicked off their European Championship qualifying campaign.
Moldova were never going to be yardstick with which to measure serious success, but Southgate will be pleased by the way his side retained possession at a sparsely-filled Madejski Stadium.
In truth, it could and should have been more than 1-0.
Saido Berahino fired home the decisive goal after just 13 minutes but, despite peppering the Moldova goal throughout, England failed to add to that tally.
Wilfried Zaha, Berahino and Will Hughes all missed gilt-edged chances in a second half in which the absence of players like Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley - both with the senior team - was striking.
It was a frustrating performance from the home side but one that showed promise in their first competitive match since a 1-0 loss to Israel.
That result saw England return from Euro 2013 pointless and cost Stuart Pearce his job, despite having led the Under-21s to four successive championships.
While the performance will hardly have the rest of Europe quaking in their boots, it was certainly an improvement on the summer's display and something on which to build.
Southgate named three debutants for tonight's match, with Southampton duo Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse making their first appearances for the Under-21s.
West Brom striker Berahino was the other new boy and quickly made an impression, stinging the palms of Alexei Koshelev from an acute angle.
The Moldova goalkeeper then did well to deny a powerful goalbound header from captain Andre Wisdom, with England scoring their first goal under Southgate moments later.
Tom Carroll, who joined QPR on a season-long loan from Tottenham earlier in the week, played an exquisite through ball to Berahino, who turned his man and drilled a venomous right-footed strike into the roof of the net.
It looked set to open the floodgates, with Shaw forcing Koshelev into a save shortly afterwards with a tremendous 25-yard half-volley.
Zaha had a penalty appeal waved away as England continued in the ascendancy, with Nathan Redmond having several strikes on goal.
Carroll had a strike tipped over after receiving a cute ball by Nathaniel Chalobah, with Zaha seeing another penalty appeal waved away as half-time approached.
England returned for the second half brightly, with Redmond latching onto a superb threaded ball by Chalobah and forcing Koshelev into an early save.
Berahino and Carroll had attempts as the domination continued, with Zaha heading over from close range when it looked easier to score.
Substitute Will Hughes fired over from a John Stones pull-back before Berahino somehow failed to net a second with little more than 10 minutes remaining.
Sammy Ameobi scooped the ball to the Burundi-born forward, who beat the goalkeeper only for Constantine Bogdan to clear after the West Brom striker missed the ball.
Zaha flashed a strike across the face of goal as England desperately searched for a second, which looked set to finally arrive when Harry Kane backheeled into Hughes' path.
However, another last-ditch clearance from Bogdan denied the Derby midfielder, epitomising a promising but frustrating evening for Southgate.