Young Lions defeated by Croatia at the Cottage

Having cruised to a 4-0 victory over France on Saturday, Lee Carsley’s England U21 side travelled to the capital – where they’d face Croatia in a friendly at Craven Cottage. With a crowd of 5,000 fans at Fulham’s home ground, would the Young Lions be able to replicate their performance from the weekend?

ENG: Trafford; Thomas, Wood, Johnson, Lewis; Doyle, Garner, Ramsey; Madueke, Jones, Palmer

CRO: Kotarski; Jureskin, Smolcic, Soldo, Colina; Baturina, Prsir, Kacavenda; Vidovic, Beljo, Frigan

England started this fixture well, with Cole Palmer looking to pose a threat from the right flank – but the lack of an out-and-out striker cost Lee Carsley’s side, as Curtis Jones was no replacement for the injured Folarin Balogun. Chelsea’s Noni Madueke also looked promising at left-wing, but he noticeably missed having a centre-forward capable of firing home his balls into the box. At times, the ex-PSV winger appeared to overcompensate for this, taking a touch too many and finding himself dispossessed with ease by a resilient Croatian defence.

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Despite England’s promising attacking play, it was Croatia that took the lead. Rico Lewis – who has become a key player for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola as of late – conceded a foul outside the box, and Martin Baturina stepped up to strike. The midfielder powered his effort into the top-left corner from twenty-five yards out, leaving James Trafford practically rooted to the spot with no chance of saving a superb opening goal.

Lee Carsley opted to replace Trafford at half-time, with Josh Griffiths taking his place between the sticks – but it was less than ten minutes before the substitute failed to save a penalty, doubling the visitors’ advantage. Leicester City’s Luke Thomas gave away a needless foul inside the box after a clumsy challenge on Matja Frigan, and Griffiths dived the wrong way when Dion Drena Beljo struck the ball from the spot.

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The Croatians could have bagged a third through Lukas Kacavenda, though a super stop from Josh Griffiths denied them a certain goal from close range. There were notable improvements after Lee Carsley’s substitutes entered the game – and the Young Lions halved the deficit in the 87th minute, as Morgan Gibbs-White fired home from the penalty spot after he was hauled to the ground inside the area.

Ultimately though, it wasn’t enough for the youngsters – who now head into the U21 EUROs this summer on the back of a defeat. They’ll take confidence from Saturday’s win over France, and will be praying for the return of Folarin Balogun if they are to make any real progress in the tournament.

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