Smith's bright start blighted by dismissal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Leeds striker Alan Smith was sent off as the England Under-21 side were forced to share the spoils for the second time in five days in their European Championship qualifier here yesterday.

The Leeds striker Alan Smith was sent off as the England Under-21 side were forced to share the spoils for the second time in five days in their European Championship qualifier here yesterday.

Smith was on his way to being England's matchwinner, after giving them the lead with a spectacular strike at the start of the second period, but, with 15 minutes left, he was sent off for violent conduct when he retaliated after being fouled by a Finnish defender. Smith had pledged only last week to calm down on the field after being branded a "thug" by his club manager, David O'Leary.

England, who had been held to a draw by Germany's Under-21s on Friday at Pride Park, then paid dearly for Smith's moment of madness when they allowed Finland's Daniel Sjolund to snatch an equaliser.

All this came after England had played the more purposeful football for long periods, particularly in the second half, and Smith himself had been a major influence until he was given his marching orders. Yet, after being held in their opening two games of their qualifying group, they now face an uphill struggle if they are to emulate the achievement of the 1998 and 2000 teams in reaching the European Under-21 Championship finals in 2002.

There were plenty of positives to take from the game, with the likes of Michael Carrick and David Dunn impressing in midfield, but England have some work to do at the back, although Clarke Carlisle looked more steady than Titus Bramble after he was taken off at half-time by the Under-21s stand-in coach, Sammy Lee.

England made most of the early running and Darius Vassell was only a foot wide with a snapshot from 12 yards after good play by Dunn and Carrick. The Finland goalkeeper, Otto Fredrikson, then did well to tip over a dipping 25-yard effort from Nottingham Forest's David Prutton, who was making his full debut.

But Finland had already shown they were a threat on the counter-attack and, after 15 minutes, Sjolund put them ahead. Paulus Roita played the ball into him and he turned inside the challenge of John Terry before beating Paul Robinson with a deflected shot.

England weathered the storm and, after 31 minutes, their captain Dunn brought them back on level terms. Ipswich's Bramble, who had scored England's goal in Friday's draw with Germany, was this time the provider as he threaded the ball to Dunn who coolly slipped the ball wide of Fredrikson.

England increased the pressure in the early stages of the second half and a spectacular effort from Smith looked to be putting them on the way to victory in the 48th minute. Manchester United's full-back Lee Roche sent over a right-wing cross and Smith, in spectacular fashion, sent an overhead kick past Fredrikson off the underside of the bar. He had had a perfectly good goal disallowed against the Germans but there was no disputing this strike.

England then looked as if they would go on to complete a convincing victory and Prutton had a close-range effort blocked, while the impressive Smith was just off target with a 15-yard effort.

But then the Leeds' player showed his immaturity yet again with his sending-off and, within 60 seconds, England were made to pay as Sjolund grabbed his second goal of the game.

Tero Karhu played the ball into his path and his shot beat Robinson from close range despite the efforts of Terry to clear off the line. The home side then sensed the chance of snatching a shock victory and Robinson did well to beat out a shot from their substitute Hannu Haarala. England sould have secured all three points in the dying seconds when Terry shot just over with a volley following a Carrick corner.

FINLAND UNDER-21: Fredrikson, Heilala, Aho, Pasanen, Timoska, Nordback, Karhu, Vayrynen, Roita, Tainio, Sjolund. Substitutes: Bahne, Kopteff, Venalainen, Niskala, Haarala, Noponen, Kunnas.

ENGLAND UNDER-21: Robinson (Leeds United), Roche (Man Utd), Bramble (Ipswich), Terry (Chelsea), Cole (Arsenal), Dunn (Blackburn), Carrick (West Ham), Prutton (Nottingham Forest), Greening (Man Utd), Vassell (Aston Villa), Smith (Leeds). Substitutes: Parker (Charlton), Taylor (Arsenal), Naylor (Wolves), Carlisle (QPR), Christie (Derby), Vernazza (Arsenal), Morris (Derby).

Referee: Fernando Mendez (Spain).

Comments