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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 19, 2008

Richards stars as Young Lions beat Slovenia

Micah Richards produced a dominant performance to help England Under-21s to a 2-1 victory over Slovenia and give senior coach Fabio Capello a reminder of his undoubted ability.

• Pearce tips Richards Capello call

The Manchester City defender was solid in defence, a constant menace from set-pieces and produced the kind of mature performance which will not see him kept out of Capello's plans for too long.

Richards equalised after Etien Velikonja had given Slovenia a surprise lead, before a second strike from Newcastle's James Milner saw Stuart Pearce's side to a comfortable victory.

Former Manchester City boss Pearce included Eastlands trio Richards, Nedum Onuoha and Michael Johnson in his starting line-up.

Peterborough goalkeeper Joe Lewis won his second cap while there were places for Tottenham pair Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon.

Milner, who is the most experienced player in Pearce's squad at this level with 36 caps, captained the side in the absence of Newcastle team-mate Steven Taylor - who had withdrawn with an ankle injury.

Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor, who hit a hat-trick against City at the weekend, began on the bench while Blackburn's Matt Derbyshire started in attack.

England enjoyed the majority of the possession in a relatively low-key start to the match at Hull's KC Stadium, but it was Slovenia who broke the deadlock in the 11th minute when midfielder Uros Korun split the defence with a neat through-ball to release Velikonja.

The winger raced through and calmly dispatched a low shot past Lewis into the left-corner of the net from just inside the box.

England almost equalised three minutes later when Huddlestone curled a dangerous free-kick from the right flank into the penalty area.

Richards lost his marker and directed a powerful header at goal which completely beat goalkeeper Matjaz Rozman but rebounded back out off the post.

It was a sign of things to come and England equalised when Huddlestone delivered a lofted free-kick into the box in the 25th minute and Rozman flapped as Richards challenged for the ball.

The ball fell loose and the City defender was left with a simple tap into an empty net from six yards out.

Milner then put England ahead 10 minutes later after neat build-up play down the right flank with Lennon.

The midfielder received the ball from Lennon with his back to goal on the edge of the area before he spun and directed a low shot into the bottom-right corner of the net.

The home side were now firmly on top and the energetic Richards almost grabbed a second in the 37th minute - but saw his header from a Mark Noble cross parried by Rozman.

Pearce replaced Milner with Wolves winger Michael Kightly at the start of the second half with West Ham's Noble taking the captain's armband.

Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Heaton was also introduced at the break for Lewis to also claim his second cap in England colours.

Lennon almost scored five minutes after half-time when he audaciously curled the ball over Rozman from the right edge of the area but the Slovenian goalkeeper was able to recover and palm the ball to safety.

The biggest cheer of the night from the 9,733 crowd though was reserved for the introduction of Fraizer Campbell in the 61st minute - who replaced Johnson - while Huddlestone was taken off for Fabrice Muamba.

The Manchester United striker, whose goals helped fire Hull into the Barclays Premier League, almost made an immediate impact when he seemed to be fouled inside the penalty area chasing an overhit through-ball but the referee waved away the appeals.

England's task was made somewhat easier after Slovenia were reduced to 10 men when the impressive Nejc Pecnik was shown a second yellow card for dissent in the 63rd minute.

Richards left to a standing ovation in the 73rd minute when he was replaced by Martin Cranie while Lennon was also withdrawn for Adam Johnson.

A subdued Derbyshire tested Rozman three minutes later, then Campbell found space inside the area but hit his 80th-minute shot straight at Rozman.

Pearce continued to make changes and with seven minutes remaining brought on Middlesbrough's David Wheater for Onuoha.

Kightly then struck the bar in the 86th minute with a brilliant strike as England cruised through to the final whistle.

  • Pearce tips Richards Capello call

    England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce believes Micah Richards is not far away from a return to the senior side after he produced a dominant performance in the 2-1 international friendly win over Slovenia.

    Pearce stressed the importance of the players with a depth of Premier League experience in his squad being able to respond with maturity if they were not named in the senior party.

    And the Manchester City defender produced the kind of performance at Hull's KC Stadium which will leave England Fabio Capello in no doubt of his pedigree to succeed at the top level.

    Richards was solid in defence, a constant menace from set pieces and produced the kind of mature performance at right-back which will make it difficult for Capello to leave him out of the forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign.

    'The thing that impressed me the most over the past couple of days is Micah's attitude which has been great - he is talent we have to nurture,' Pearce said.

    'There has been speculation that when players drop down they won't be motivated to play for the under-21s but that has not been the case with Micah at all. 'Players have to be able to step up and step down - they do it abroad and we have to get into that mentality of doing it here.

    'And that will serve Micah in good stead. He can't be in the wilderness of not being in the seniors and not be in the under-21s and be in between the two squads.

    'This is what we are trying to build towards - players coming to the under-21 side and seeing it as a pathway back to the senior squad.

    'If they do well here, and do well for their club as he has done then they will get their chance.

    'Fabio will have watched the game tonight and I'll speak with him tomorrow and tell him who I thought did well - and I thought Micah played very well tonight.

    'It is the expected reaction and should be the normal reaction. We shouldn't be surprised by it - I certainly wasn't.'

    Slovenia had taken a surprise lead in the 11th minute when midfielder Uros Korun split the England defence with a neat through-ball to release Etien Velikonja.

    The winger raced through and calmly dispatched a low shot past Peterborough goalkeeper Joe Lewis and into the left-corner of the net from just inside the box.

    England almost equalised three minutes later when Tom Huddlestone curled a dangerous free-kick from the right flank into the penalty area.

    Richards lost his marker and directed a powerful header at goal which completely beat goalkeeper Matjaz Rozman but rebounded back out off the post.

    It was a sign of things to come and England equalised when Huddlestone delivered a lofted free-kick into the box in the 25th minute and Rozman flapped as Richards challenged for the ball.

    The ball fell loose and the City defender was left with the simple task of tapping the ball into an empty net from six-yards out.

    Under-21 captain James Milner put England ahead 10 minutes later after neat build-up play down the right flank with Aaron Lennon.

    The Newcastle midfielder received the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the area, turned his man and struck a low shot past Rozman.

    England were then able to cruise in the second half after Slovenia forward Nejc Pecnik was sent off in the 63rd minute.

    And Pearce is confident that Richards, who could have had a hat-trick in the first half, will continue to terrorise defences with his aerial ability.

    'When he first broke in the side at Manchester City he was a constant goal-threat and he has certainly got it in him,' Pearce added.

    'His leap is quite frightening at times and he is always a threat in the box. We were pleased he got on the scoresheet.

    'He got us back into the game and he has that capability so maybe he should, like I used to when I played, set himself a goals target each year.'

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