Aidy Boothroyd’s England U21s got the better of Daniel Isaila’s Romania U21s at Molineux Stadium on Saturday evening in the one-off Cyrille Regis International to extend their unbeaten run in all International competitions to nearly a year, here’s five of the biggest Talking Points from the competitive contest.
Gray Marks Captaincy In Style
Young Leicester City attacker Demarai Gray was given the captain’s armband for the first time by manager Boothroyd in his native Midlands on Saturday and rose to lead by example.
Gray, 21, was outstanding in the right-wing position before being substituted for Everton full-back Jonjoe Kenny midway through the second-half, making work for the Romanian defenders time and time again and proving a constant threat to goal.
Aside from his outstanding display, the starlet also put his name to the match’s all-important opening goal on eight minutes at Molineux, albeit with a little help from his domestic teammate Alexandru Pascanu.
Having received a pass in the final third from Kyle Waller-Peters via fellow attacker Ademola Lookman, the paceman rushed into the box and unleashed a quick-fire effort that clipped Pascanu and wrongfooted Inter Milan shot-stopper Ionut Radu on its way.
Gray’s showing would have undoubtedly caught the eye of many spectators including the gracious Molineux faithful and he will hope senior manager Gareth Southgate’s, if one thing’s for sure, he certainly hasn’t done his hopes of a first call-up ahead of the summer’s World Cup in Russia any harm.
Standout Performer Clarke-Salter Redeems Himself
While his comrade Gray stole much of the attention, there can be little doubting that it was a 21s debut to savour for Chelsea defender, on loan at Sky Bet Championship Sunderland, Jake Clarke-Salter.
Many an eyebrow was raised when he was selected for the starting Xl for the friendly given his recent disciplinary record with the Black Cats of being sent off in his last two appearances, including last weekend’s defeat to Preston North End.
However, the centre-back soon confounded his critics by letting his football do the talking with a disciplined and competent contribution within the back-four, helping to limit Isaila’s men to just the one goal considering their wealth of chances throughout.
But, he will surely be remembered most for his vital second-half goal that put the Three Lions two to the good just after the 70-minute mark, and in essence, was the strike that won them the contest.
The 20-year-old towered high above everyone else in the area from a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner to head on off the post and cap off his memorable night, to put the cherry on the cake, he was the awarded the Man of the Match for his efforts on an evening he will never forget.
Spirited Romania Push Young Lions All The Way
Minnows Romania weren’t given a hope by many ahead of the match and entered it as firm underdogs, though they succeeded in their mission to prove the masses wrong by pushing England all the way.
Remarkably, despite being a full 20 places below their hosts in the FIFA U21 World Raking, the Little Tricolours could have just as easily won the game with the opportunities they spurned.
Those guilty of being wasteful in front of goal in the entertaining encounter included the likes of the three in supporting attack Mihai Dobre, Ianis Hagi and Florinel Coman and lone striker Andrei Ivan, who missed the clearest in the first period.
When the visitors did finally trouble the scorers with little over ten minutes remaining to make it 2-1, the goal arrived in scrappy circumstances with a Hagi long free-kick being missed by Dean Henderson and eventually falling to substitute Valentin Costache who couldn’t miss.
While the young Romanians would have left England bitterly disappointed to have lost their 362-day unbeaten run, they will take confidence from a closely-fight game with one of Europe’s most talented young sides, it should hold them in good stead for the rest of their 2019 European U21 Championship qualifying campaign.
Regis Remembered In Great Molineux Advert For Youth Game
As much as events on the pitch and the headlines in the West Midlands, off of it, the event named the “Cyrille Regis International” was very much about remembering a true legend, pioneer and Icon of the English game.
Regis, who sadly passed away at the tender age of 59 in January, was one of the first black players to represent the England national team and also enjoyed a coveted domestic career, making over 600 appearances for clubs such as West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers whose Molineux was the host stadium two days ago.
Prior to the evening kick-off, representatives of the above-mentioned teams laid wreaths on the playing surface to remember, Cyrille, a man of class who touched many people’s hearts, and a moving minute’s applause was observed after that.
The competitive match that followed was an affair that the great man himself would surely have been proud of, a fast-paced thriller in which each loose ball was hotly contested, and both sets of players played with a great deal of pride and determination.
To top it all off, Molineux once again proved itself as a highly-impressive venue for International football with over 15,000 spectators turning out with their horns, drums and singing voices to contribute towards an electric atmosphere and all-around compelling advert for youth International football.
So, now that both teams have finally contested the eagerly-awaited Cyrille Regis International and attended to the matter of a great International fixture between two forward-thinking footballing nations, what will be next for these two talented nations?
There will be little rest for Boothroyd’s boys as they have a competitive fixture to focus on in the next few days as part of qualification to the next European U21 Championship, hosting Ukraine U21s at the nearby home of Sheffield United, Bramall Lane, on Tuesday evening, catch all the build-up and reaction to that one right here.
Meanwhile, that will do Isaila’s side for this particular International break and in fact, the next few months as they will not take to the field again until September, when they travel to face Portugal in qualifying, they are second in their group, while England are first in theirs’ in the race to Italy and San Marino.
If you want to read more about England U21s’ Cyrille Regis International victory over Romania U21s, you can catch our Match Report here, or our Young Lions Player Ratings here, and for archives of our live text commentary, live from the Molineux Stadium Press Box on Saturday, hit up our Live Blog here.