Rhian Brewster and Cole Palmer ensured Lee Carsley’s England U21 era got off to a winning start with a 2-0 win over Kosovo U21 at Stadium MK.
Brewster scored his first goal for the U21s from the spot 10 minutes in after the Sheffield United striker had been fouled by goalkeeper Leo Besson in the box.
Carsley kept only two of the starting XI who had played in England’s final game at Euro 2021 under predecessor Aidy Boothroyd and his unfamiliar charges struggled for rhythm without the ball at times, allowing Kosovo to twice go close before they doubled their lead.
Palmer recycled an overhit cross on the right flank, took himself past his man with a lovely Cruyff turn and from a tight angle in the box, beat Besson into the far corner with a finish club boss Pep Guardiola would have been proud of 27 minutes in.
There would be no additions to the scoreline from there on in, but England slowly grew into their game plan and controlled most of the rest of the match to cruise to victory in their opening game of Euro 2023 qualifying.
Young Lions settle early nerves to claim victory
Covid, illness and injury had all played their part in Carsley’s debut line-up – four days after he had been forced to abandon naming his first team sheet when the Young Lions’ game in Romania was called off due to a coronavirus outbreak.
That would have its own part to play in a disjointed opening where Kosovo began the stronger, before they were swiftly undone by a defensive lapse 10 minutes in when Brewster collected a through-ball, was sent tumbling by Besson, and picked himself up to beat him from 12 yards.
The striker could have done with that morale boost and so could his team-mates, who briefly appeared more settled until they were nearly undone again. Palmer’s clumsy defending lost out to Kreshnik Krasniqi, whose long-range effort was spilled by Josef Bursik and would have been finished off by Mark Marleku had Marc Guehi not made a timely block.
The Manchester City forward made amends to double England’s lead just before the half-hour, dancing past Florian Hoxha on the flank before ignoring his options in the middle and curling into the far corner from near the byline.
Guehi then headed wide from a corner as an increasingly confident England spurned the chance to add further to their lead, and five minutes after half-time Brewster did likewise when turning Palmer’s free-kick into Besson’s arms.
Chances were few and far between after the break, with Noni Madueke particularly unfortunate not to see one of a number of runs ended with an assist, while Kosovo’s resilience was nearly rewarded late on by substitute Altin Zeqiri, who fired over from a good position.
Three points, two goals and a clean sheet on Carsley’s debut was more than enough for the new manager, though, as his side got off to a perfect start to their main aim of Euro 2023 qualification.
England travel to Slovenia in their second qualifying game for Euro 2023 on Thursday, October 7.