Football: Lampard's middle men lead the way

By Peter Lansley at The Dell
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The Independent Online
IF THE bravado of Peter Taylor's goalscoring midfield can be matched by England's seniors at Wembley this afternoon, Kevin Keegan will not be concerned by any number of missing forwards. The Under-21s strode majestically towards the last 16 of their European Championships by recording their fourth successive competitive victory - still no goals conceded - with all the strikes coming from supporting players.

Frank Lampard, Lee Bowyer and Lee Hendrieshared the goals at the ground where Keegan proved such an inspirational figure in the early 1980s. The new England coach will have been impressed by the vigour, team unity and sheer quality displayed by Taylor's youngsters.

In matching the five-goal licking of Luxembourg last October, England produced their best performance in Taylor's two-and-a-half year reign. "I'm very pleased because it was a 90-minute performance," said the England Under-21 coach, who had feared for his position when Glenn Hoddle stepped down last month.

"We carried on playing with a lot of quality. I would have liked us to have scored earlier to calm us down but Lee Bowyer scored at just the right time for us and we kept it going. This was our best performance because it was against a very good team."

The other factor to be considered is the fact that Taylor was missing Emile Heskey, Matthew Upson and Kieron Dyer, all first-choice players out injured.

On the last occasion these sides met in this country, at Molineux in late 1996, the kick off was delayed two hours by a lonesome cheese sandwich, which necessitated calling the bomb-disposal experts. Last night England's rhythm took a while to kick in but once they went ahead they were explosive.

Bowyer, who endured an 18-month sabbatical from international duty after opting to go on holiday rather than take part in the Toulon Under-21 Tournament, returned to Taylor's team with a goal against France last month. After 41 minutes last night, he burst past two defenders to drill in from an acute angle, following a flick-on from the lively Matt Jansen.

That breakthrough goal sparked a rampant second-half display. Ten minutes in, Lampard continued his record of scoring in all this season's qualifiers with a penalty after James Beattie, the home player, was fouled. Having missed from the spot in the Portman Road friendly against the Czech Republic four months ago, Lampard successfully opted for the opposite corner.

Five minutes later the West Ham midfielder struck a magnificent goal. Taylor pointed out 19 passes preceded his captain's 25-yard left-foot shot which flew into the top corner.

Hendrie was next on target, drawing the sting out of Wes Brown's centre before rounding goalkeeper Andrzej Bledzewski to score after 72 minutes. Nine minutes from time, just as the Southampton supporters were preparing to applaud Beattie scoring, Bowyer dashed in to take the ball off him and ram home Jason Euell's downward header. The rout was officially complete.

"That was the complete performance, in terms of our passing and finishing," Lampard said. "The quality of this squad seems to have really come on. We've played under Peter for a long time now and the results he's had speak for themselves."

Taylor added: "It's been good this season because we've created a lot of chances and stuck them away. The players were passing with outstanding quality."

ENGLAND: Wright (Ipswich Town); Carragher (Liverpool), Mills (Charlton Athletic), Ball (Everton); Brown (Manchester United), Bowyer (Leeds United), Lampard (West Ham United), Hendrie (Aston Villa), Johnson (Crewe Alexandra); Beattie (Southampton), Jansen (Blackburn Rovers). Substitutes: Mullins (Crystal Palace) for Lampard 79; Euell (Wimbledon) for Jansen 62; Curtis (Manchester United) for Hendrie 73;

POLAND: Bledzewski (Gornik Zabrze);

Glowacki (Lech Poznan), Terlecki (Widzew Lodz), Kosowski (Gornik Zabrze); Jakubowski (LKS Lodz), Peczak (Amica Wronki), Scherfchen (Lech Poznan), Sobczak (Petrochemia Plock), Dawidowski (Amica Wronki); Wichniarek (Widzew Lodz), Bykowski (GKS Belchatow). Substitutes: Kubik (Racing Harelbeke) for Jakubowski 83; Wlodarczyk (Ruch Chorzow) for Bykowski 65; Sokolowski (Amica Wronki) for Scherfchen 58.

REFEREE: El Arjoun Abderrahaim (Mor)

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