England Under-21s kept alive their hopes of qualification for next summer's European Championship with a convincing victory over their Group Nine rivals Lithuania yesterday at Colchester.
Stuart Pearce's team had to win to stand a chance of securing one of the four best runners-up spots to make the play-offs for Denmark.
After a tense first half, two goals from the Sunderland forward Danny Welbeck and the Aston Villa winger Marc Albrighton secured the victory which, given results elsewhere, secured England's passage to the play-offs next month.
Pearce named an unchanged side from last Friday's 1-0 win in Portugal, which meant that the 18-year-old Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere had to again be content with a place on the bench.
In a nervy opening by the Young Lions, the Blackburn defender Phil Jones had to make an important saving tackle as Arvydas Novikovas broke into the left side of the penalty area.
The first decent opening for England came on 11 minutes when the Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge dragged his shot wide after good work down the left by Ryan Bertrand, on loan at Nottingham Forest from Stamford Bridge. Slowly the home side started to get control of the midfield, with Lithuania picking up two bookings in quick succession for late challenges.
Jones headed over a corner from Tom Cleverley, on loan at Wigan from Manchester United, before the England captain Michael Mancienne – another of the Chelsea youngsters, spending the season at Wolves – saw his long-range effort saved. Then the Tottenham winger Danny Rose drilled the ball narrowly over as England continued to press for the breakthrough.
Lithuania had not come to make up the numbers, however, and there was a let-off for the home side on 35 minutes when a 25-yard free-kick from the defender Mantas Fridrikas squirmed through the grasp of home keeper Frank Fielding and hit the base of the post.
Welbeck dragged his 20-yard shot wide as England finished the half on top but still unable to break down a stubborn Lithuania defence.
The game changed after the break, though, as Wilshere was introduced at the start of the second half in place of Kyle Walker and immediately England looked more assertive. Rose had a shot blocked, while Sturridge curled his shot just wide.
The breakthrough finally came on 61 minutes when Welbeck stroked the ball into the far corner after being played through the left side of the penalty area by Wilshere's fine pass.
England knew their play-off prospects could come down to goal difference, and so continued to press. Sturridge saw his neat finish ruled out by the offside flag as the game entered the final 20 minutes, before Welbeck looped his header on to the roof of the net.
But the pace of Welbeck soon opened up Lithuania again, and his angled shot was almost bundled into the net by a combination of keeper and defender before, with 11 minutes left, Albrighton stabbed in at the far post.
Welbeck wrapped up the victory when he got his second in stoppage time – and England were in next month's play-offs.Reuse content