CONNOR Wickham and Danny Rose both played key roles in a comfortable win for England Under-21s over their Austrian counterparts last night.
Rose made an important goal-line clearance and Wickham got on the scoresheet as Austria were on the wrong end of a 4-0 drubbing at Brighton’s Amex Arena.
It was a tough night for the visitors, who edged the opening half hour, only to be reduced to nine men soon after the break.
Rose cleared off the line in the 20th minute after a long-range shot from an Austrian corner looked certain to put the visitors ahead at a time when they were dominating.
But the game began to tilt in England’s favour just before the break when Wickham forced goalkeeper Richard Strebinger into an error – the keeper red-carded after handling outside his box as the Sunderland striker sprinted towards him.
England scored from the resulting free-kick – Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey converting his side’s first shot on target in the 40th minute.
Austria were reduced to nine men shortly after the half-time interval when Patrick Farkas was given his marching orders for handling inside the area.
Replays showed Austria could count themselves unfortunate with both sendings off and England Under 21 manager Stuart Pearce would probably have preferred the game to remain 11v11 so that his players could get the best work-out from a friendly played in front of more than 20,000 fans.
But Middlesbrough’s Josh McEachran, on loan from Chelsea, scored from the penalty spot and the night’s third goal as England powered ahead came in the 66th minute, when Wickham stormed through the Austrian defence and pulled the ball back into the path of Bolton’s Marvin Sordell who tapped the ball home.
Having forced the goalkeeping error and set up a goal, Wickham capped an impressive performance when he got on the scoresheet himself in the 74th minute.
Former Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson – on as a substitute on the hour – was the architect with a superb pass which Wickham seized on to round the keeper and score from a tight angle.
That goal confirmed England Under-21s’ ninth straight win – all accomplished with clean sheets – and while Pearce was thrilled with the result, Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill would have been just as delighted to see both his players come through the match unscathed.
Now, the manager’s attention will switch to the Republic of Ireland’s game against Austria at the Aviva Stadium tonight in which both John O’Shea and James McClean have been named in the starting 11.
O’Neill will hope that both his players come through without picking up injuries in what has been a poor international break for the club so far.
Leading scorer Steven Fletcher was stretchered off in the second minute of Scotland’s game against Wales last Friday and it still remains unclear how long an ankle injury will keep him sidelined for.
Meanwhile, Sunderland midfielder David Vaughan has withdrawn from the Wales’ squad with a groin strain.
H Sunderland keeper Peter Burke saved a penalty on his way to a clean sheet as the Republic of Ireland began their Uefa European Under-17 Championship campaign with a win last night.
Burke, a regular in the Black Cats’ Under-18s in recent weeks, kept out Adrian Grbic’s spot-kick to seal a 1-0 win over hosts Austria in the first of three Elite Round Group Six ties. Ireland meet Georgia tomorrow and Serbia on Saturday.