Harry Kane came off the bench to score the only goal as England Under-21s beat Lithuania 1-0 last night.
It took the visitors a frustrating 80 minutes to break down a spirited Lithuania side to win their European Under-21 Championship qualifying tie in Kanaus, with Tottenham striker Kane’s late header proving the difference.
With England already qualified for next summer’s tournament in the Czech Republic and Lithuania unable to make it, the game carried the distinct feeling of a dead-rubber and failed to shake that off for much of the contest.
Gareth Southgate named a strong starting line-up for the visitors too but, like their senior counterparts in Wednesday’s friendly victory over Norway, they struggled to stamp their quality on an inferior side.
After failing to make an impression in the first half, England looked much sharper after the break as Saido Berahino came to life and Nathan Redmond hit the woodwork before Kane’s headed effort settled the match.
England had started on the back-foot as a poor goal-kick from captain Jack Butland was picked up by Lithuania, but Tomas Birskys wasted a fine opportunity to give the hosts an unexpected lead as he lashed over from the edge of the area.
As Southgate’s Young Lions searched for a breakthrough, Lithuania looked dangerous on the counter-attack and broke quickly after a James Ward-Prowse free-kick was easily cleared, with Ernestas Veliulis forcing a low save out of Butland on the half-hour mark.
The threat from the hosts continued with Lukas Baranauskas latching onto a cross from Ovidijus Verbickas only to see his close-range volley pushed away by Butland.
With Nathaniel Chalobah and Tom Ince firing efforts wide before the interval, it was Saido Berahino – who scored twice in the 5-0 reverse fixture in October – who worked Tomas Svedkauskas fully for the first time early in the second half.
The West Brom striker saw an angled shot pushed away with Luke Garbutt’s follow-up from distance easily held by the Lithuanian stopper before Berahino missed another chance.
Norwich’s Redmond saw his low effort hacked off the line but the hosts looked lively whenever they got in and around Butland’s goal and it was Baranauskas again causing concern as he arrowed a shot wide with the England captain at full stretch.
Both Ince and Berahino went agonisingly close to turning home Garbutt’s low cross before Southgate introduced Kane in place of Ben Gibson with 64 minutes gone.
England’s long-awaited breakthrough finally came with 10 minutes remaining as Kane rose highest to glance a header home from Ward-Prowse’s inch-perfect cross.
Southgate’s Under-21s were grateful to Kane, who notched his fourth goal in six caps at this level.
Kane will be hoping Roy Hodgson had at least one eye on his efforts at the Darius and Girenas Stadium.