England Under-21s shrugged off the absence of manager Stuart Pearce to take a huge step towards qualification for Euro 2013 with a comfortable victory over Belgium in front of nearly 23,000 in Middlesbrough yesterday evening.
With Pearce taking charge of the seniors at Wembley, Brian Eastick guided the team to a victory that means Belgium can no longer catch them at the top of Group Eight, while Norway would need to win their remaining four games and have England drop points in their last two.
Henri Lansbury opened the scoring with a stunning cross-cum-shot from the wing, before Stephen Caulker headed in a second in the 35th minute. When Lansbury added a third eight minutes into the second half, the three points were wrapped up long before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's stoppage-time penalty.
England's plan was to use the pace of wingers Oxlade-Chamberlain and debutant Wilfried Zaha to get behind the Belgian defence and they set out full of running, with the wingers regularly switching sides.
But it was Lansbury who really caught the eye, flashing a header wide from Martin Kelly's deep cross before opening the scoring in stunning fashion in the ninth minute. There appeared little danger as he stood deep on the left wing but he fired the ball in and left goalkeeper Kaen Casteels rooted to the spot as it sailed into the far corner.
It took a sliding tackle from Laurens De Bock to prevent Oxlade-Chamberlain breaking free, but from the resulting corner Caulker headed in for the second. England added a third seven minutes into the second half when the ball fell for Zaha on the right side and he drilled in a low ball for Lansbury to lash home.
Belgium had their best chance in response, with Badibanga's through ball finding the run of Bruno to get in behind the defence, but he slid his shot wide of the far post.
A vicious effort from Lamisha Musonda was blocked on the line and Butland than denied Jens Naessens when one-on-one in stoppage time as England protected their clean sheet before Oxlade-Chamberlain won a soft penalty, which he drilled home with the last kick of the game.
England Under-21 Butland, Kelly, Caulker, Dawson, Rose, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, McEachran, Zaha (Shelvey, 67), Lansbury (Gardner, 73), Sordell (Keane, 82).