A TEAM in red showing defiance and spirit at Oakwell was not exactly the most pleasing for those spectators who descended on Barnsley last night.
Kick-off may have been delayed for half an hour due to the tardy arrival of the Belarus team, due to congestion on the nearby M1, but the red-shirted visitors proved on message on the pitch to frustrate England Under-21s – until Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson saved face seven minutes from time.
The Boro defender, disconsolate just 17 days earlier after the Teessiders’ Championship play-off final loss at Wembley, bundled home a winner made in Yorkshire.
It came after a viscious free-kick from Harrogate-born man-of the match Luke Garbutt was parried into Gibson’s path by Uladzislau Vasiliuchak and moments after Mikalai Zolatau was dismissed for a second yellow for fouling Garbutt.
The goal yielded victory, although it was hardly as emphatic as the previous Under-21 appointment at Oakwell, when England strolled past Israel 4-1 in September 2011.
On the Under-21s’ previous two fixtures in the Broad Acres, outstanding results had been recorded, the Germans beaten 3-2 at the Riverside Stadium back in March and Scotland thrashed 6-0 at Bramall Lane in August 2013.
But Belarus refused to wilt and as final pre-tournament outings go, Gareth Southgate had a frustrating evening ahead of the UEFA Championships in the Czech Republic – England start out against Portugal next Thursday.
Not picking up any injury concerns will have been a plus, but the psychological boost of a confident victory was not forthcoming. Against opponents who were organised and committed, but offered minimal threat, England largely toiled.
In front of a healthy Oakwell crowd, England, in mitigation, had several promising moments in the opening 15 minutes before the fire faded.
First, Gibson, one of the three White Rose-born defenders in the back four along with former Reds favourite John Stones and Garbutt, planted a free header wide following James Ward-Prowse’s corner. Soon after, Saido Berahino was thwarted by an offside flag after firing home the rebound after Alex Pritchard’s shot was blocked. The latter then supplied the highly-rated West Brom forward with a clever reverse pass, but his effort was beaten away by goalkeeper Vasiliuchak.
Nathan Redmond was the next to threaten with a snapshot which was turned away before Berahino’s low shot from an acute angle was blocked.
But as the half went on, Belarus, who needed no encouragement to get plenty of red shirts behind the ball, grew in confidence.
For Penistone lad Stones, afforded a warm reception from the Barnsley crowd on his return to the club, and Gibson, there were minimal scares, with former Reds and Leeds loanee Jack Butland having next to nothing to do.
That theme continued on the restart, although Vasiliuchak, in goal at the Pontefract Road end, was not exactly overemployed either while a rare Belarus half-chance saw Aliaksandr Yanchanka fire over from distance.
England sent for the cavalry of sorts just before the hour mark with Harry Kane and Danny Ings entering the fray, but it failed to significantly pep up the hosts.
The buoyant early atmosphere started to dissipate as England failed to energise the 15,207 crowd, who had little off which to feed.
One threatening moment did arrive, at the feet of the hosts’ outstanding player Garbutt, who latched onto Ings’s pullback and saw his low shot meekly dealt with by Vasiliuchak before trickling wide.
Kane then bundled an effort wide at the far post before Gibson gave England a fortuitous win, with Ings then going close twice late on.
England: Butland (Bond 69); Jenkinson, Stones (Chambers 46), Gibson, Garbutt; Carroll, Hughes (Loftus-Cheek 46), Ward-Prowse, Pritchard (Lingard 69); Redmond (Ings 59), Berahino (Kane 59). Unused substitutes: Forster-Caskey, Bettinelli, Chalobah, Keane, Moore, Targett.
Belarus: Vasiliuchak; Karpovich, Ihnatsenka, Pazniak, Zolatau; Leshka (Pauliukavets 86), Korzun, Yablonski, Yarotski (Shybun 63); Lebedzeu (Mileuski 64), Yanchanka (Klimovich 76). Unused substitutes: Chychkan, Yeudakimau, Klimovich, Baiduk.
Referee: J Lardot (Belgium).