Young Lions Phil Foden and Reiss Nelson turn on the style as England U21s win in Hull
THE WHITE ROSE was in full bloom out east on the previous occasion that England under-21s convened in Hull.
Goals from Horsforth’s very own James Milner – proudly wearing the captain’s armband –and Leeds-raised Micah Richards gave a distinctly Yorkshire flavour to proceedings during a 2-1 victory over Slovenia on August 19, 2008 – on an evening when Fraizer Campbell and Aaron Lennon also represented the Young Lions.
Just one Yorkshireman may have lined up for the hosts’ last night in Norwich City’s York-born defender Ben Godfrey, bestowed with captain’s duties just as Milner was, but there was plenty of interest for those Broad Acres viewers who elected to tune in on BT Sport nevertheless.
A very respectable crowd of 15,258 also made it in person to the KCOM Stadium – far in excess of the 6,235 who turned up against the Slovenians just over 11 years earlier.
Those that came certainly got their money’s worth and another home win.
To put last night’s attendance into some perspective, it was just over one thousand more than Hull City’s highest league crowd last season – for the Easter Monday appointment with Sheffield United and comfortably eclipsed the Tigers’ seasonal Championship average of 12,165.
The coconut shies, hook-a-duck stalls and shooting saloons may be among the attractions at the nearby Hull Fair in around three weeks, but for those sports-minded youngsters of East Yorkshire, watching the likes of two-goal Phil Foden and Reiss Nelson in the flesh was rather more choice entertainment.
For those watching on the TV across the county, the chief attraction on view was Leeds United loanee Eddie Nketiah, fresh from his brace in Turkey – which had taken his tally to five goals in his opening six appearances so far this season.
Further interest was provided by the sight of Huddersfield Town loanee Trevoh Chalobah resident in the back three alongside Godfrey while former Sheffield United keeper Aaron Ramsdale was the last line of defence behind them.
Well policed by the Kosovan defence, Nketiah played second fiddle to his good friend and Arsenal team-mate Reiss Nelson, whose intricate footwork, instinctive close-control and ability to drop his shoulder showcased the skills of a player who most expect to hear a lot about in the years to come.
That said, Nketiah is coming along just nicely and he and Nelson were among numerous England outfield players involved in a sublime 15-pass move which was the precursor to the home breakthrough.
England utilised the width of the pitch in a bid to draw out Kosovo and suddenly found a pocket of space down the left with Steven Sessegnon dancing past his opponent before unleashing a fierce drive which was blocked close to the goalline by Bologna’s Lirim Kastrati.
Revered for his midfield grace, Foden – whose nickname of the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ is a fairly substantial one – showed the instincts usually befitting a striker to bury the loose ball put England on their way on 26 minutes.
He showed similar traits to gild the win in stoppage-time.
His opener was settler for the hosts, who were on the backfoot initially, with Lokomotiva’s Lirim Kastrati seeing his angled low shot palmed out by Ramsdale at full-stretch as Kosovo opened up England down their right.
England composed themselves, with the visitors surviving a penalty scare when Nketiah tumbled under the challenge of Besfort Kolgeci before the Hull audience were on their feet, thanks to Foden’s strike.
Intrinsic skill from Nelson, who honed his talents as a boy in the South London suburb of Elephant and Castle, saw him go close to a second with keeper Florjan Smakiqi denying him with a key parry after he effortlessly ghosted past an opponent before unleashing a fierce drive.
Hailing from just down the road in Lewisham, Nkeitah’s first sniff of goal arrived in the second half when he was a whisker away with an angled drive.
A definitive second goal almost arrived when substitute Todd Cantwell’s effort was parried in the nick of time at his near post by Smakiqi as England – who brought on Bradford-born Mason Greenwood just after the hour mark – continued to paint pretty pictures on the Hull canvas.
England suffered a let-off when Max Aarons made a brilliant last-ditch challenge to prevent Blendi Baftiu from scoring a certain equaliser late on – with the Norwich defender suffering a nasty-looking injury in the process – before Foden sealed it.
England under-21s: Ramsdale; Guehi, Chalobah, Godfrey; Aarons (Justin 80), Gibbs-White (Cantwell 61), Davies, Foden, Sessegnon; Nketiah (Brewster 76), Nelson (Greenwood 61). Substitutes unused: Balcombe, Panzo, Richards, Skipp, Eze.
Kosovo under-21s: Snakiqi; Mema (Muja 34), Xhemajli, Kolgeci; Kastrati, Adedini, Hajrizi, Zekaj, Gashi (Baftiu 65); Daku (Mustafa 45), Kastrati. Substitutes unused: Nika, Sadriu, Bislimi, Vitija, Hasani, Sadiku.
Referee: K Karlsson (Sweden).