Stuart Pearce's reign as the full-time England Under-21 coach started with a draw after Romania grabbed a fortunate equaliser in the friendly at Ashton Gate.
Pearce's new set of youngsters started brightly and were leading through Matt Derbyshire's early strike before the visitors dragged themselves back in the game.
Bogdan Stancu's free-kick crashed off the bar and went in off goalkeeper Joe Hart to level matters at Bristol City's ground, and despite ending the game with 10 men Romania clung to a draw.
Pearce was technically still part-time coach when he led his youngsters to the semi-finals of the European Championships earlier in the summer, although by then he had been sacked at Manchester City.
This was his first game as full-time coach and he had lost more than half of his squad, meaning Under-21 debuts for the likes of Craig Gardner, Martin Cranie, David Wheater, Michael Kightly, and Michael Johnson.
It was a sweet return for Gabriel Agbonlahor, who missed the Euros after the Football Association failed to contact him to confirm his call-up, and he gave Pearce a glimpse of what he had been missing.
Despite unfamiliarity - and an early scare when midfielder Eric Bicfalvi forced Hart to tip over the crossbar - the hosts were quickly into their stride.
They looked to use the speed of Agbonlahor and Theo Walcott, with the latter stabbing wide as Pearce's youngsters started at a pacy tempo.
The reward came in the eighth minute when Gardner's throw from the right found his Villa team-mate Agbonlahor with his back to goal.
Agbonlahor turned and drove across the face of the goal for Derbyshire to tap in, his third goal for the Under-21s in five appearances and adding to his fine early-season form after scoring a beauty on the opening week of the Barclays Premier League season.
Pearce wanted to use the friendly as an exercise ahead of the Euro 2009 qualifiers against Montenegro and Bulgaria next month, and Romania obliged by continuing to scrap for everything.
Walcott was targeted on the left flank, earning bookings for Adrian Ropotan and Alexandru Tudose.
There was plenty of commitment from England, too, with Agbonlahor losing the ball in the centre circle and chasing it back to the edge of his own penalty area to win back possession.
Romania got themselves back in the game as the game slowed down, although their equaliser in the 24th minute came after a huge slice of luck.
Nedum Onuoha, the skipper for the evening, slipped as he tussled with Stancu and the ball struck the hand of the Manchester City defender, earning him a booking.
Stancu's free-kick from the edge of the area came back off the crossbar and in off Hart's back. It was wretched luck on Hart and the visitors grew in confidence.
Clement Palimaru almost gave them the lead when he raced through from a Gabriel Torje ball, only for Hart to smother.
Onuoha made a vital tackle on Stancu after Palimaru played him through, winning the ball when the hosts had cut through the England defence.
Ben Alnwick, Adam Johnson and Michael Mancienne were brought off the bench at half-time for their debuts, with goalkeeper Alnwick quickly in the action, saving with his legs after a sweeping move ended with Torje being found in space cutting in from the right.
At the other end, Derbyshire thought he was impeded when Tudose closed him down as he was about to shoot.
Derbyshire came closer in the 66th minute with a firm header saved by Ciprian Tatarusanu, and the goalkeeper blocked Walcott's follow-up.
Cristian Scutaru had already been booked for a foul on Agbonlahor, and another tussle with the Villa forward led to a second yellow card and Romania playing the last part of the match with 10 men.
Luke Moore was brought on for Agbonlahor for the last 13 minutes and Derbyshire was taken off for James Milner, meaning the Newcastle midfielder equalled the record for Under-21 caps.