A solid performance for the England under 21 side yesterday as Stuart Pearce – to his credit – yet again guided the side to the European Championship. It’s a shame that the match was somewhat overshadowed by the unsavoury scenes that started at the final whistle.
Concentrating on the football, England were carrying the slenderest of slender leads to the cauldron of atmosphere in Belgrade, and it was always going to be a very tricky game for the young side. A goal would have probably guaranteed their progression to the finals, but they had to wait till the 94th minute for the goal which secured qualification, as substitute Wickham tapped into an empty net when the keeper was up for a corner.
Instead, it was a highly impressive defensive display which ensured that they’d be on their way to Israel next summer.
Butland highlighted why he is so highly rated with some great saves, and he particularly impressed with his confidence in controlling the influx of balls into the box. Yet, in actual truth he was rarely troubled due to the attempts of Caulker and last week’s goalscorer, Dawson, who created a solid unit in the heart of defence. Together, they were two rocks in defence and dealt with all types of attacks from the strong, skilful Serbs.
The midfield helped shield too, with Lowe and Henderson providing a strong screen that was rarely breached in the whole 180 minutes.
Yet, despite the great results, things weren’t completely rosy. I know how hard it is to get a win against a Serbian side in Serbia, but the way England played was yet another reminder that Stuart Pearce has to go.
He may have qualified for a forth successive Championships, which he himself noted was something that no other European side has managed. And in 2009 he oversaw a strong side which made it to the final.
But what has he done since. An awful attempt in 2011 saw an England side containing many players who now represent the senior team, crash out in the group stage. That was arguably one of the brightest crops of talent in under-21 history, and the cagey, negative football surely didn’t do their development very well.
In fact, this evening highlighted many of those issues yet again. The inability to put more than a couple of passes together at any given time, mirrored the problems bemoaning the full national side.
I can’t even remember a passage where we kept possession in their half and put together more than 5 passes in the whole game. And that is woeful when you consider the talent on show. Thomas Ince has lit up the Championship this season and showed every time he touched the ball that he was probably the most technically able player on the pitch. Similarly Zaha, Lowe and Sordell have impressed in the Championship too this season.
And that’s not even mentioning the Liverpool contingent in the squad of £20million – Jordan Henderson or arguably Liverpool’s player of the season so far in Raheem Sterling. You can’t forget that Danny Rose has a lot of PL experience and even Caulker and Dawson are known to be ball playing defenders.
But the potential to play nice football is just not recognised at all by Pearce. For his Olympics side, he angered everyone by not picking Beckham, and instead packed his sides with small technical midfielders and left backs. He didn’t include enough centre backs, and the midfielders seemed too similar to really make a difference.
Whilst these calls could have been successful if the side had done well, defeat to South Korea can at best be seen as par. Personally I was disappointed at the style of play in the cagey, tight performances throughout the Olympics.
Pearce has had the chance to lead England’s second string, and try and produce players for the future. But it simply hasn’t worked. They play negative football and his tactics are not in any way progressing their knowledge of the game, or dealing with the problems of keeping possession that the senior side struggles with.
He failed as a club manager, had some success in this role, and he has succeeded in consecutive qualifications, as well as turnover into the senior squad, but watching the un-entertaining side in qualification, I feel his time is well and truly up.
Written by Will
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