Dawson penalty seals first-leg victory for England
A dominant England came out with a well-deserved victory and clean sheet and now head to Serbia on Tuesday in the second-leg with a place in the finals at stake against strong opposition. The win was a seventh consecutive competitive win – equalling a 27-year-old record for the U-21s.
Dawson confidently slotted home a 65th minute spot-kick after Luka Milunovic felled Adam Smith in the box to win it, but the margin could have been bigger as Tom Ince, Jordan Henderson, and Wilfred Zaha all had good chances.
Pearce named Norwich City defender Ryan Bennett on the bench for the fixture, whilst Raheem Sterling, Wilfred Zaha, and Marvin Sordell starting in attack. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson captained the side in midfield alongside Manchester City’s Jack Rodwell.
It was a nervy start to the match from the hosts as Milunovic missed a spectacular attempt early on, but after three bookings in the opening seven minutes, England finally settled into the match.
Serbia were a threat on the counter attack with the pace of Filip Malbasic, but it was England who could easily have gone ahead in the 13th minute, but the lively Ince glanced a perfect cross from Danny Rose just wide.
Minutes later Ince had another chance following some excellent play from Liverpool’s Sterling – but a heavy touch when one-on-one with Branimir Aleksic allowed the Serbian ‘keeper to make a brilliant save to deny the Blackpool man.
Rodwell then fired over from 20 yards as England pressed, but determined to get an away goal, the visitors hit back – first with Milunovic’s header which didn’t trouble Jack Butland, and then with a Sasa Markovic effort that flew wide.
Pearce’s young charges continued to push for a deserved opening goal, but as the half drew to a close, Ince shot wide from 25 yards after a nice lay off by Sterling, and Henderson’s first time shot went just a whisker wide from a similar distance.
HALF-TIME: England Under-21s 0, Serbia Under-21s 0
After the break the 17-year-old Sterling began to grow into the game – beating four players in the 56th minute and finding Zaha, who worked it back to the Liverpool youngster, only for the ball to fly over.
Then in the 65th minute a nice piece of attacking play led to a late Milunovic challenge on Charlton full-back Smith just inside the area, giving referee Deniz Aytekin no choice but to point to the spot.
West Brom’s Dawson was the man elected to take the kick, and he made no mistake in firing a powerful effort to the ‘keeper’s left, who guessed the right way but was helpless to stop England taking a 1-0 lead.
The introduction of Tottenham’s Hotspur’s Andros Townsend for Sterling gave England even more attacking threat. He picked out Zaha with a clever pass in the 69th minute, but the Crystal Palace man had a shot blocked instead of cutting the ball back for the incoming Henderson to have an effort.
Steven Caulker’s header from Townsend’s free kick then required a wonder save from Aleksic late on, before goalscorer Dawson did brilliantly to block Dorde Despotovic’s shot just one minute from time and seal a crucial win and clean sheet for England at Carrow Road.
FULL-TIME: England Under-21s 1, Serbia Uner-21s 0
ENGLAND: Butland, Smith, Rose, Rodwell (Lowe 46) Caulker, Dawson, Zaha, Henderson (c), Sordell (Wickham 78), Ince, Sterling (Townsend 66)