England Under-21s signed off before next week’s UEFA European Championship with a laboured 1-0 win in their warm-up friendly with 10-man Belarus at Barnsley.
Despite a plethora of Barclays Premier League stars in their starting line-up and coming off the bench, including man-of-the-moment Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate’s men had to wait until the 82nd minute to break down a Belarus side who only arrived in South Yorkshire 25 minutes before kick-off.
The decisive moment of the game came when defender Ben Gibson poked home from close range after goalkeeper Uladzislau Vasiliuchak had spilled Luke Garbutt’s free-kick.
It was a dominant display from the Young Lions in terms of possession and territory, but a vast improvement will be required if they are to make a splash at the tournament in the Czech Republic, which gets under way for Southgate’s men against Portugal next Thursday.
The evening had started promisingly as, given kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes owing to the late arrival of the Belarusians, who only came out to warm-up 15 minutes before the rescheduled start after being held up by a lorry fire on the M1, it was no surprise that England took early control of proceedings.
Gibson planted a header wide from James Ward-Prowse’s corner while Saido Berahino had an effort disallowed for offside after Alex Prichard’s shot had been blocked.
Despite their team bus’ late arrival, Belarus still managed to park it in front of their goal as they set up to frustrate the Young Lions, who kept on knocking.
Berahino had an effort well saved by the legs of Vasiliuchak, who then palmed away a fierce Nathan Redmond drive from distance while several neat passing moves broke down with the final ball.
Without creating anything of note Belarus began to provide more of a test for Southgate’s men, who found that their own chances began to dry up.
The 15-minute period either side of half-time was lacklustre and at odds with a notion within the England camp that they have a serious chance in the Czech Republic.
For all their possession, and it was almost exclusive, they did very little with it and Southgate had to turn to star duo Kane and Danny Ings on the hour.
England created their best since the early part of the first half in the 68th minute when Ings got in down the left and pulled back perfectly for Garbutt, whose first-time effort was parried by Vasiliuchak.
Kane’s presence brought some renewed threat to the England front line and with his impressive touch, physical presence and pace he looked a class above everyone else on the pitch.
The Tottenham striker had nothing to do with the winning goal, though, as Gibson was in the right place to convert after some slapdash handling from Vasiliuchak following Garbutt’s free-kick, which was awarded after Mikalai Zolatau saw red for a nasty challenge on Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Kane and Ings both went close to adding gloss to the scoreline but the Young Lions had to settle for one as their attention turns to the Czech Republic.