England U21's came into this game against Finland U21's level on points with Wales at the top of group 1 having played 2 games less. If that wasn't motivation enough the fact that 22 of 26 in Hodgson's senior squad have played at least 1 game for the U21's, meaning play well in this match and you may well force your way into the senior side.
Gareth Southgate made 3 changes to the side that beat Lithuania 5-0 at Portman Road, Tom Carroll was out through injury whilst Jack Robinson & Thomas Ince dropped to the bench. Southgate employed an initial 4-2-3-1 formation with Chalobah & Ward-Prowse the two deep midfielders with Saido Berahino up front on his own.
Finland started the game well, pressing England in defence with attacking midfielder Moshtagh Yaghoubi looking particularly impressive. England's decision making inside the opening quarter was particularly poor especially from Sterling & Zaha who coughed up possession far too easily. The Three Lions eeked out an opener which came in the 22nd minute thanks to James Ward-Prowse' lovely inswinging free kick met the head of Michael Keane perfectly who had stoically wrestled away from his marker to free up space for himself in the 6 yard box. Ward-Prowse's deliveries were in fact sublime all half, an added string to an already impressive bow!
Zaha and Sterling were finding it hard to get the better of their full backs who will no doubt have expected the multitude of tricks from the speedy wingers. Zaha in particular seemed to always want to unload his full repertoire of flicks and turns when interplay between Morrison or Berahino would have been more effective. A quote from Owen Hargreaves summed it up for me:
"Very rarely do you see Messi, Iniesta etc do stepovers /Cruyff turns they all simply have a very good 1st touch".
Luke Shaw, the better of England's 2 full backs supported Sterling well and throughout the half was seen bombing up the left flank, his tenacity was rewarded in the 37thminute when he unleashed a cross/shot across the keeper, who could only parry, into the path of Berahino for his 3rd goal of this qualifying campaign. By this point England had reigned themselves and took a 2 goal advantage into half time.
After 10 minutes of the second half Ravel Morrison, perhaps the teams inform player, had grown into the game often dropping deep to collect the ball and audaciously look for another of his team mates. To get maximum potency from him Southgate will want his actions to be predominantly in the final 3rd and not the middle. It was Morrison himself who teed up Ward-Prowse for a right footed effort which he hit cleanly but Jesse Joronen the Finnish keeper saved well to his left.
With just over two thirds of the game gone Southgate opted for a double substitution bringing Tom Ince on the surprisingly ineffective Sterling, that move showed the abundance of depth that the U21's have out wide when you can call upon Ince who has already played over 100 professional games. Zaha switched to the left and it seemed to galvanise him, twisting both ways to fire a cross over for the aforementioned Ince who somehow missed an open net. Patrick O'Shaughnessy was shown his second caution of the night for a clumsy challenge on Luke Shaw which almost brought an end to the contest. Butland was forced into his first save of the night after 82 minutes which showed the lack of attacking options Finland had but also how well Messrs Keane & Stones played together in the centre of defence.
A current Birmingham City loanee and Manchester United player replaced a former Birmingham and Manchester United player when Jesse Lingard came on for Ravel Morrison. Lingard looked lively in the 10 minutes he had on the field involving Berahino in the play more from his central position. This was apparent for England's 3rd goal when Lingard at the end of his superb mazy run teed up Berahino on the edge of the area for a wonderfully composed finish. I can't say i saw too much from the West Brom youngster in the match but what he does give is that finishing ability and he showed that perfectly today, 4 goals in 5 now for him. The game ended 3-0 to England.
A confident and assured performance without really blowing anyone away.
They now have 13 points from 5 games and are 3 points ahead of 2nd place Wales who have played a game more than the Three Lions.