England, perhaps playing for the last time at home under the charge of Peter Taylor, moved a step closer to qualifying for next summer's European Under-21 championship finals when a superb 76th-minute strike by Wigan left back Leighton Baines gave them a slender lead in their two-leg play-off against Germany.
Taylor is due to replaced as soon as Steve McClaren settles on the right man to take charge of the Under-21s full time but should his side come through Tuesday's second leg in Leverkusen, the argument that the Crystal Palace manager should remain in charge until after the finals in the Netherlands will be difficult to resist. As popular as ever with his players, Taylor described last night's performance as the best of his second spell in the role.
"The job deserves a full-time manager and as manager of Palace I am not in a position to do it," he said. "But I still love the job, the players do respond to me and I will certainly miss nights like this.
"I would love to be in charge for the finals next year, provided we qualify, but Steve will have his plans and I will respect whatever decision he takes."
Against a German side with whom England drew twice last season, defending a slender lead in the second leg is no foregone conclusion but Taylor is confident the job can be completed. "We will give Germany respect but they have seen how good we are."
His line-up last night employed only Preston's David Nugent in a dedicated striker's role but, until he was rested after 65 minutes, Theo Walcott's blistering pace enabled the 17-year-old to advance from his position on the left of midfield. Wayne Routledge was similarly effective from wide on the right and with James Milner and Nigel Reo-Coker dominating central midfield, in front of the solid presence of Tom Huddlestone in the anchor role, England were in charge for long periods.
The German defence found themselves repeatedly reliant on goalkeeper Michael Rensing. In the first half, he kept out shots from Huddlestone, Routledge and Baines before acrobatically tipping an Anton Ferdinand header over the bar.
The Germans reshaped their midfield for the second half and England were pushed on to the back foot for the first time but Ferdinand stood out in his defensive role.
Routledge could consider himself unlucky as his shot struck a post, before England goalkeeper Scott Carson, otherwise scarcely needed, saw the ball sail wide as Aaron Hunt's curling shot left him stretched.
Then Steven Taylor, the young Newcastle centre half, saved Baines' embarrassment after his error almost let in Mario Gomez. Ultimately, though, it was Baines who emerged as England's hero, proving Rensing could be beaten as his superb 25-yard shot gave him his first international goal and Taylor's team a potentially vital advantage.
England Under-21 (4-1-4-1): Carson (Liverpool); Richards (Manchester City), S Taylor (Newcastle), Ferdinand (West Ham), Baines (Wigan); Huddlestone (Tottenham); Routledge (Tottenham), Reo-Coker (West Ham), Milner (Aston Villa), Walcott (Arsenal); Nugent (Preston). Substitutes: Young (Watford) for Walcott, 65; Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) for Routledge, 71; Watson (Crystal Palace) for Nugent, 81. Substitutes not used: Camp (Derby, gk), Hoyte (Arsenal), Kilgallon (Leeds), Whittingham (Aston Villa).
Germany Under-21 (4-3-2-1): Rensing; Reinhardt, Brzenska, Matip, Ochs; Polanski (Ottl, h-t), Castro, Hunt; Boateng (Dum, 77), Kiessling; Gomez. Substitutes not used: Tschauner, Bieler, Freis, Hilbert, Kruska.
Referee: M Trefoloni (Italy).Reuse content