As a club reporter I take a keen interest in the progression of youth team players hence one of my many roles as youth team correspondent. I watch and wonder where the footballing path will lead for Mansfield’s young starlets but often forget about those higher up the system and those getting the opportunity to make their mark on the international stage – last night was the prime opportunity as the One Call Stadium played host to England U18s V Italy U18s.
At international level the U18 category is a non-competitive one in terms of European championships and world cups, Noel Blake’s England Under 18s side then used as the breeding ground and preparation for championships from the age of 19 up to senior level. Despite the fact it was only a friendly and games are few and far between, plenty flocking into the One Call Stadium to take a look at the next generation of international stars, pleasing too for us that we we’re allowed to cover the match – the only station to do so.
Analysing the game at times was difficult as the fizz faded away and it took on that typical friendly style, keep the ball and maintain the shape, however there were certainly moments collectively and individually which were encouraging for the future, for example the way our young players tried to play football as rather than fall into the kick and rush nature you often see. Prior to Joe Hart coming onto the national stage you could say we had a lack of goalkeeping talent, the two on show last night in each half both put in solid displays and produced a number of excellent stops which you wouldn’t expect to see at that level of football, at least not technically anyway!
A handful of players were handed first caps including second half substitutes Jacob and Josh Murphy, twin widemen currently on the books at Norwich along with keeper Cameron Dawson and right back Liam Grimshaw – all those handed first caps can be proud and should be inspired to keep working as the signs were encouraging. Speaking from a club perspective, would I like to have a look at one or two players to aid Mansfield’s season? For sure.
Noel Barke’s England began lively and were nearly ahead in under a minute as a surging run from former Wycombe and now Liverpool man Jordan Ibe had the Italians chasing shadows down the left flank. A smart cut back across the box saw the ball fall for Everton hit man Christopher Long, Italy right back Lorenzo Venuti making a vital block on the six yard line.
Two minutes later a near identical move then put England ahead. Ibe was again the architect as he weaved his way down the left hand side, this time making a cleaver reverse pass to Isaac Hayden who dropped well to create a pocket of space. The Arsenal man, playing out of position in a midfield role, cut back across the middle for Long who this time thundered into the back of the net for his third international goal in seven appearances.
As the game crept towards the ten minute mark the Italians stepped up their efforts as they searched for a leveller, they should have had one two on eight minutes when left back Filippo Costa got forward down the left hand side. Cutting a square ball back across to the edge of the penalty area, England failed to pick up Diego Frugoli who curled a magnificent first time effort towards the top corner, Middlesbrough’s Luke Coddington pulling off an unbelievable save at full stretch to palm the ball away for a corner.
Coddington was tested thrice more from Frugoli who was primarily the Italians main attacking source, however the Borough keeper making his fourth international appearance ensured the young three lions stayed ahead with a series of comfortable saves.
With ten minutes to go before the break Coddington for once could do little as Italy broke with pace. Once more Frugoli was involved driving forward before slipping a pass through to Mattia Aramu as Leo Chambers stepped forward to close down. Aramu found himself free inside the box but had clearly left his shooting boots on the plane as he dragged horribly wide of the mark in what proved to be the visitors best chance of the half.
Two minutes later England then countered with intent after highly rated captain John Swift had broken up an Italian move, holding up against three players he threaded through Liverpool man Ibe who made ground before feeding Devante Cole through the middle, the Manchester City youngster being stopped at the last by the hastily backtracking Luca Iotti.
At the break Blake’s three lions held a 1-0 lead and made just one change for the second period, the impressive Luke Coddington withdrawn for debutant Cameron Dawson, the 17 year old Sheffield Wednesday man being drafted into the squad earlier in the week. The Owls youngster had little to do in the early stages of the second half as England looked to keep the ball and progress forward.
On 58 minutes the Owls youngster was in action as Sam Coulson was judged to have held back Leonardo Capezzi some thirty yards from goal whilst jumping for a header. The Italian midfielder stepped up to take the free kick and curled a hairs whisker wide of the target, however Dawson had it covered.
Ten minutes later England finally doubled their lead as Luke Woodland and Ibe both linked up with short sharp passes on the edge of the visitors box, the former found space and squared under pressure to Devante Cole, son of former Manchester United and Newcastle hit man Andy, who prodded in from close range.
Italy then spurned a golden chance to get back into the game with seven minutes remaining as Leo Chambers midjudged the flight of a long ball forward. Italy substitute Tiberio Velocci getting free inside the box but screwing horribly wide of the target from ten yards out.
Numerous changes for both sides then saw the game fizzle out, England twin substitutes Jacob and Josh Murphy both coming close to adding a third in the final five minutes however neither could bet Wladimiro Falcone in the visiting goal, the full time whistle sealing a 2-0 victory for Noel Blake’s youngsters.
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