England Under 21s 3
(Demarai Gray, Lewis Baker, Jack Stephens)
Italy Under 21s 2
(Andrea Conti, Federico di Francesco)
St Mary’s Stadium (Southampton FC)
If St Mary’s wasn’t packed with international prowess already, a Europa League campaign and a roster of international stars, the ground was playing host to an England Under 21’s side ready to take on their Italian counterparts.
Despite Southampton securing regular Premier League football over the last few seasons, they have actively continued to produce young British talent and give them their chance in the first team.
Everyone has heard of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale, they all came through the age groups at St Mary’s and more recently Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers have all left for pastures new.
The next crop of youngsters coming through don’t look too shabby either, Matt Targett, James Ward-Prowse and Sam McQueen are all getting their chance to shine and that list goes on.
Thanks to the hard work that goes into the development of young British talent at Southampton, this under 21’s fixture had a bit of local interest with three current Saints players all featuring in the form of Jack Stephens, Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond, not failing to mention former Saint Chambers also pulling on the Three Lions jersey.
Albeit the first time watching the England Under 21s, it was in familiar territory so just scan through my blog for previous trips to St Mary’s.
Jack Stephens scored deep into injury time to give Aidy Boothroyd’s young England side a well-earned 3-2 victory over Italy at St Mary’s Stadium.
Despite England striking first through Leicester’s Demarai Gray, Italy held a 2-1 lead going into the break. Vitesse winger Lewis Baker drew things level on the hour before Stephens poked in the winner at his home ground.
Calum Chamblers, on loan to Middlesbrough from Arsenal, had the game’s first real chance when he headed just over from a good corner kick from Ward-Prowse.
England did take the lead on six minutes when Nathan Redmond played a lovely pass into the box for John Swift who’s pass was perfectly deflected into the path of Gray to fire home into the gaping net.
The Azzurri soon had the scores level again on 13 minutes through Atalanta right back Andrea Conti who picked the ball up just inside the attacking half and he ran down the line looking to put a cross in which took a deflection off West Brom’s Brendan Galloway and over ‘keeper Angus Gunn into the top corner.
Despite England’s bright start, Italy were ahead on 28 minutes when a corner was flicked on by Andrea Petagna at the near post and Federico di Francesco got to better of Redmond at the back post to fire into the net.
England were forced into an early change on the half hour mark when Reading midfielder John Swift was hobbled off with an injury and replaced by Derby County star Will Hughes.
Luigi Di Biagio’s men were also forced into a first half sub just before the interval when goal scorer di Francesco was replaced by Chievo forward Vittorio Parigini.
The second half started well for the young lions and Gray nearly grabbed his second of the night when he struck the top of the crossbar with a curling effort just inside the corner of the box.
The woodwork came to the rescue again for Italy when Newcastle United’s Isaac Hayden whipped in a good ball and Hughes was there to tap towards goal but it beat Aston Villa’s Pierluigi Gollini in the Azzurri goal but bounced off the post.
Boothroyd’s men did find the equaliser on the hour mark on 60 minutes when Lewis Baker played a nice one-two with Hughes on the edge of the box before firing a low shot into the corner of the net.
The game looked to be ending as a draw and Italy made a host of changes after the equaliser, which probably worked against them with so many players trying to settle into the game.
Strikers Duncan Watmore (Sunderland) and Tammy Abraham (Bristol City on loan from Chelsea) were introduced to find that winning goal but England Under 21’s unbeaten home run that stretches over six years looked to remain intact.
Deep into stoppage time, England somehow managed to steal the victory when Gollini did well to stop Chambers’ header but Jack Stephens was in the right place to poke in the rebound and wheel away in celebration with his local fans rounding off an entertaining fixture.
2016/17 Games: 58
2016/17 Grounds: 45
Total Grounds Visited: 179