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By ESPN Staff

Portugal 1-1 England: Pearce's U21s close-in

Adam Johnson grabbed a second-half equaliser against Portugal to earn the injury-hit England Under-21s a precious point at Estadio Municipal de Agueda.

Stuart Pearce's youngsters conceded their first goal of Euro 2009 qualifying when Vieirinha scored an early penalty, and although they could not preserve their 100% record, a draw puts them on course for the play-offs to reach the finals in Sweden.

Johnson's goal, his first for the Under-21s, came just after the break and England looked the more likely to grab the win despite their injury problems.

England knew they would be up against it when Matt Derbyshire picked up a quad injury during morning training, joining Gabriel Agbonlahor on the sidelines as the Aston Villa forward failed to recover from a twisted knee.

It meant Theo Walcott was the lone striker and the Arsenal teenager put in a mature performance, showing strength as well as the touch and pace that had him considered for the seniors this week.

Steven Taylor recovered from a back injury to lead the side out as skipper, but Pearce was denied a whole team of players through injuries prior to and during the international break.

Within three minutes they were behind at a ground that normally hosts lower-league football.

Portugal's seniors had knocked England out of the last two major tournaments after shoot-outs, and it was a penalty that gave them the lead.

Craig Gardner brought down Vieirinha as the winger carried the ball into the penalty area and the Portugal winger confidently took the spot-kick, although Joe Hart dived the right way.

Pearce's youngsters gradually forced themselves back into contention, with Walcott proving the danger.

He backheeled in from a Tom Huddlestone free-kick but play had been called back for a foul on Fulham goalkeeper Ricardo Batista.

Huddlestone's set-pieces were difficult for the Portuguese to defend, with David Wheater twice heading over from good positions.

Portugal looked technically assured and Inter Milan youngster Pele set their tempo just ahead of the defence, while Joao Moutinho was their creative force.

They too were not at full strength, although that was because eligible players like Manuel Fernandes, Nani and Miguel Veloso were with the seniors.

Fabrice Muamba struggled to cope with Moutinho and he was booked for two hacks at the Sporting Lisbon youngster, while Taylor also received a yellow card before he was taken off at the interval.

Moutinho should have doubled the lead midway through the first half. Hart made a mess of a routine clearance in the right channel, Moutinho's finish was on target but the Manchester City goalkeeper made it back to save just five yards from his line.

Johnson, the Middlesbrough winger on loan at Watford, sent Walcott through nine minutes before the break but the finish after racing behind the defence was saved by Batista.

Huddlestone also flashed a free-kick right across Batista's goal, while Lee Cattermole felt he was fouled by the goalkeeper outside the area but a goalkick was given.

Pearce's youngsters were level within four minutes of the restart.

Joe Mattock's throw from the right was allowed to bounce through to Johnson at the far post and his sweet volley found the far corner.

Now playing with confidence restored, England pressed for a second goal and Huddlestone went close three times.

His first two efforts were more speculative but his third, a first-time volley from James Milner's cross, would have finished a delightful move.

Walcott showed shades of Thierry Henry when he darted in from the left flank and forced a low save from Batista, and he was full of running throughout.

Portugal also threatened in an end-to-end final quarter of the match - Saleiro headed into the path Moutinho but Michael Mancienne was back to slide clear, while Targino's scissor kick went just over the bar in the final stages.

At the other end, Milner's cross was inches from Johnson as he sought to add a second.