Nathan Redmond and Alfie Mawson both scored for England’s under-21s to rise from the dead and clinch all three points against Slovakia.
This match was the second round of matches in the U21 European Championship for Group A. England drew their first game 0-0 with Sweden, meaning they needed a win at all cost to have a chance of progressing.
Slovakia, on the other hand, beat hosts Poland 2-1 in their opening game. Both sides were strong, but England were under more pressure, with fans at home hoping they’ll match the U20s and win the entire tournament. Slovakia had looked suspect in their win against Poland. After dominating the first half, they seemed to struggle much more in the second half, especially when Poland had to look for an equaliser.
England hoped to capitalise on this and pressure them early. Slovakia, however, struggled defensively at times so they were hoping to outscore the English team.
The half began and it was a slightly cagey affair, with England especially knowing that a loss would be devastating to their hopes of reaching the knockout stages. Possession was even but in the first 15 minutes England were creating the better chances of the two teams.
Baker was getting involved in both defence and attack and Abraham was close to latching onto passes on a few occasions. Adrian Chovan, the Slovakian goalkeeper was mostly untroubled though. Slovakia had few opportunities but they looked lively when they did break.
After 20 minutes of play, Slovakia pressed forward and won a corner. Albert Rusnak’s delivery was met by Martin Chrien near the front post. Chrien sent a looping header towards the back post, and it hit the back of the net. England stunned and after 23 minutes it was 1-0 to Slovakia.
The next part of the half involved England pressing high and gaining control as they were forced to push for an equaliser. Slovakia’s defence held, with Ninaj and Skriniar stopping the majority of England’s attacks. Half time arrived, and Slovakia were feeling hopeful of gaining the three points. They were 1-0 up, and defending well. England knew anything but a win would cost them dearly.
The second half began differently to the first. England immediately fought for possession and pressed the Slovakian backline, asking questions of it. Slovakia looked less sure in defence than they did in the first half. After just 5 minutes, England reached their much needed breakthrough.
A corner was whipped in by the English side and Chovan, the Slovakian keeper, cleared it poorly, allowing England a second attempt at putting the ball into the box. The initial shot from the cross was stopped, but Chovan was only able to put it into Alfie Mawson’s path, who tapped home a simple goal.
England continued the half as they started it and merely 11 minutes later, the ball crossed the line again, this time thanks to Nathan Redmond. Redmond found space on the right hand side after a counter attack and cut inside. He beat his man and slammed home a right footed shot. Chovan was once again left helpless as England took the lead. After 61 minutes of play, England were ahead two goals to one in Kielce. The young Englishmen saw out the rest of the match as it finished up 2-1, Slovakia unable to level the game.
While England came away with the win, it was a far from perfect performance. It picked up in the 2nd half, but in the first 45 they were wasteful in attack, and lacked incisiveness. The performance picked up later on, and they did well to hold out the result. Qualification to the knockout stage is still in reach. Slovakia will be kicking themselves for not holding onto their lead, although it was a big ask. Reaching the knockout stages is still possible for them too, and that will help ease the pain of the loss.