Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey the star as England U21s beat Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan U-21s 0 England U-21s 2

Jonjo Shelvey scored one and set up another as England moved within touching distance of the UEFA Under-21 Championship play-offs with victory in Azerbaijan.

Liverpool midfielder Shelvey's first goal for at this level followed Steven Caulker's third to send Stuart Pearce's men five points clear at the top of qualifying Group Eight with one match remaining. That is on Monday against Norway, who needed to win in Belgium in tonight's late kick-off and beat England in Chesterfield in four days' time to deny their rivals a place in next month's two-legged play-offs.

Today's victory was the Young Lions' sixth out of their seven qualifiers and saw Pearce hand a debut to Thomas Ince, son of former England star Paul, on an artificial pitch against opponents England had thrashed 6-0 a year earlier.

And after Javid Imamverdiyev went close for the hosts, in-form Blackpool winger Ince should have stolen the headlines when he screwed Marvin Sordell's cross wide on the turn.

England assumed total control and some delightful football saw Wilfried Zaha bamboozle the Azeri defence and fire into the side netting.

A series of corners then came to nought before Craig Dawson was booked in the 25th minute for exacting retribution on Rizvan Umarov after being caught himself.

But Dawson had the last laugh three minutes later when centre-back partner Caulker powered England ahead, the Tottenham man heading in Shelvey's left-wing free-kick.

Caulker should have made it 2-0 two minutes later when he glanced Ince's far-post cross wide before Azerbaijan goalkeeper Salahat Agayev produced some unconventional heroics to keep the hosts in it.

A goalmouth scramble saw him keep out Martin Kelly's deflected cross and deny Marvin Sordell before Zaha's follow-up was cleared off the line to muted penalty appeals.

Agayev then looked stranded after completely missing a cross but he recovered to produce an astonishing near-post save from Sordell, who looked certain to convert after Danny Rose kept the ball in play.

Caulker saw another header go to waste shortly before half-time and Zaha fired a good chance over shortly after the restart.

Azerbaijan, who had thrown on Orkhan Hasanov at the break, began to get a grip and, after some harmless long shots, they might have levelled on the hour mark when Imamverdiyev curled narrowly high and wide.

Pearce took immediate action by sending on debutant Ben Marshall for Zaha but the hosts continued to push.

Ben Amos - who had looked untroubled filling in for ill goalkeeper Jason Steele - saved from Araz Abdullayev, prompting Connor Wickham's introduction for Sordell.

The second change almost proved inspired as Wickham nodded Martin Kelly's cross wide but it appeared to have the desired effect as England kept their opponents at bay.

Mirhuseyin Seyidov's free-kick was easily claimed by Amos and Azerbaijan went for broke in the final 10 minutes with a double substitution of their own.

But it backfired seven minutes from time as Wickham nodded Caulker's long ball into the path of Shelvey, who volleyed emphatically beyond the onrushing keeper.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence