Brave Wales made England fight all the way but Stuart Pearce's side surely have one foot in the European Under-21 Championship finals after a cracker of a match at Ninian Park.
Simon Church scored twice in the first half to keep Wales' hopes alive in the play-off first leg but England were eventually too powerful. David Wheater headed one equaliser, before Adam Johnson put England ahead. Church's contribution was outstanding, but it was Gabriel Agbonlahor who grabbed the eventual winner to send England into next Tuesday's second leg at Villa Park full of confidence.
Wales started with a remarkable amount of confidence, passing the ball neatly and with Aaron Ramsey finding space to operate in just behind Church. England, too, showed plenty of class, with Agbonlahor showing strength and pace against Lewin Nyatanga.
But after 13 minutes England were stunned when Wales took the lead. Jack Collison combined with Ramsey, and when an England tackle came in, the ball cannoned away straight to Church, who kept his head to stride into the box before beating Joe Hart with a low drive. It was Church's fifth goal in nine appearance at this level.
But England were level six minutes later when Wheater, who had been dangerous at set-pieces, rose to send a looping header inside the far post from Jamie O'Hara's corner. Wales responded to that blow with a 20-yard effort from Andy King that Hart could only beat away.
But England were constructing moves with confidence, keeping possession and pushing Wales back. And they almost took the lead after 27 minutes when Agbonlahor rattled the bar from 25 yards. Milner then tested Owain Fon Williams as he cut in from the right, before Mark Noble had a fierce drive charged down as Wales failed to clear another corner properly.
England took the lead 10 minutes from the break. Wales conceded possession too easily in midfield and Noble's crossfield pass sent Johnson away on the left. He cut inside Neal Eardley and kept his feet when he could have gone down in search of a penalty, before striking a drive across Fon Williams and into the far side of the net.
Shaun MacDonald responded with a lifting drive that cleared the bar, before Wales levelled two minutes from the break when Ramsey's pass sent Church surging into the box to again drive low past Hart.
England coach Stuart Pearce cannot have been impressed at the break, and his side emerged galvanised – but Ramsey was still finding space to weave his magic. One clever backheel left England's midfield standing.
Wales sent on Joe Allen for Nicky Adams, but after 61 minutes England were ahead again. Claims that Rhoys Wiggins had been fouled in the build-up were ignored, and Noble broke clear to lay on a cross for Agbonlahor to flick home from close range.
Wales U21 (4-4-1-1): Fon Williams; Eardley, Blake, Nyatanga, Wiggins; Adams (Allen, 59), Collison, King (James, 84), MacDonald (Brown, 76); Ramsey; Church. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Jacobson, Mike Williams, Marc Williams.
England U21 (4-4-2): Hart; Wheater, Mancienne, Taylor, O'Hara; Milner, Cattermole, Huddlestone, Johnson; Noble, Agbonlahor (Campbell, 76). Substitutes not used: Heaton, Stearman, Cork, Bertrand, Derbyshire, Ebanks-Blake.
Referee: P Balaj (Romania)Reuse content