Josh dictates; Nathaniel receives debut; England U-21 cruise thanks to goals from Connor Wickham and Benik Afobe.
England U-21, fresh off their hard-fought (both on & off the pitch) qualification for next summer's European U-21 Football Championship played a friendly match versus Northern Ireland U-21 on Tuesday. This is not something I would normally care about at all, but I loaded up the replay tonight on FoxSoccer2Go hoping to perhaps see some Josh McEachran action. The on-loan Chelsea prospect has been receiving all sort of plaudits for his performances at Middlesborough - most of which I had not witnessed personally and so I had hoped to catch a glimpse or two beyond just highlight reel dribbles.
McEachran did not disappoint, but the best moment of the match for me came in the 76th minute when Nathaniel Chalobah was handed his U-21 debut by Stuart Pearce - one of seven debuts on the night as Pearce called up plenty of fresh faces after the grind of the qualifiers. Chalobah turns 18 in December yet he's already established himself as a key member of mid-table Championship side Watford's midfield. In his quarter hour of national team action, Chalobah played the base of a midfield trio and although his very first touch at U-21 level was a bit of a shambles, the rest of his performance was in line with the high hopes I have for the young man.
As far as McEachran... I'm not sure he played many passes longer than 10 yards but for most of the match he looked like the only English player on the pitch who wasn't allergic to the ball. And while he showed plenty of skill with some lovely one-touch passing and plenty of creativity with several through balls, he was also more than happy to take a touch or two when that was needed. The same can't be said for his teammates, most of whom looked to play direct and vertical all the time. While everybody appreciated all the action and all the running, the team's over-reliance on it just came off as haphazard and a bit lower league-ish. But perhaps I'm being harsh.
As the deepest of the midfield trio - behind Jordan Henderson and Nick Powell - McEachran's control, calmness, and intelligence on the ball was easy to see. While nobody should pretend that Northern Ireland posed all that much of a challenge, Josh certainly looked ready for greater & bigger things. Unfortunately his night ended on a down note in the 66th as he hobbled off (under his own power) with an apparent, and hopefully just slight, ankle injury.
Overall, it was a successful night for the England youths and all the Chelsea boys involved. While Connor Wickham will gather most of the cursory praise for his goal that proved to be the winner in the end, it was McEachran who was arguably the Man of the Match for England - for Northern Ireland, it was definitely their Superman goalkeeper Conor Devlin who in his day job keeps goal for (Northern) Irish League leaders Cliftonville. And of course congratulations to young Nathaniel Chalobah for his debut - just another step in his quest to become world class.