England Under-21s provide required response

England Under-21s clocked up a record-breaking win against San Marino as they impressively answered manager Gareth Southgate’s calls to show more ruthlessness in front of goal.

MICHAEL KEANE: Defender scored his third goal in four England Under-21s appearances.
MICHAEL KEANE: Defender scored his third goal in four England Under-21s appearances.

Fans flocked to a sold-out Greenhous Meadow hoping for goals and the Young Lions did not disappoint, racking up a win that usurped their previous best of a seven-goal margin of victory set in 1976 and 2009.

It was the perfect end to a tumultuous year and just what manager Southgate had called for in the build-up to the European Championship qualifier.

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While keen for the team to play with freedom, the former England defender was frustrated by some of his players’ preference for the over-elaborate in last Thursday’s 3-0 win against Finland.

Southgate called for a more clinical edge in England’s last match of 2013 and got just that in Shrewsbury, despite the absence of in-form Saido Berahino through suspension.

Last month San Marino restricted England to a 4-0 win with a defence-minded formation, which was easily overcome last night.

Manchester United defender Michael Keane nodded England ahead after 13 minutes, his third goal in four appearances for the Under-21s.

Two minutes later Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling capitalised on some atrocious defending to double the lead. A wayward strike bounced fortuitously off Mirco Ciambotta and back into his path and he slotted home

In the 18th minute full debutant Danny Ings extended that advantage, heading home Thomas Ince’s cross.

Southampton teenager James Ward-Prowse showed just why Hull City manager Steve Bruce recently likened his set-piece ability to David Beckham’s as he curled home a fine free-kick in the 24th minute, and Ince extending the lead as half-time approached.

Jack Butland was replaced by Jonathan Bond at half-time, with Ward-Prowse captaining the Young Lions in a second half that started with another goal.

Ings just beat room-mate Carl Jenkinson to prod home England’s sixth shortly after the restart, although the Arsenal right-back managed a goal of his own after Sterling smartly lifted the ball over San Marino’s hapless goalkeeper.

Will Hughes showed great feet before slotting home to put England 9-0 up, wrapping up an impressive victory that keeps them in control of Group 1.

Southgate said: “I was particularly pleased with the attitude and the hunger to the end to do the right thing and to keep wanting to go forward.”