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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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By ESPN Staff

England book place in finals

England kept their discipline to reach the UEFA Under-21 Championship finals as they snuffed out Romania in Tuesday's play-off second leg in Botosani.

• Pearce hails gutsy display

Stuart Pearce's men survived more than one first-half scare and missed two good chances of their own at the Municipal Stadium but their 2-1 first-leg win proved enough to book a spot at next summer's tournament in Denmark.

Daniel Sturridge wasted the visitors' best opportunity, while Marius Alexe wasted a glorious chance for Romania as England deservedly held out.

Qualification is no mean feat for a side which has seen many of the stars who reached the tournament's final just over a year ago graduate to the senior set-up.

England's first-leg lead meant they needed today only to extend their unbeaten away record at Under-21 level, which dated back almost five years, but there was no sign of them trying to keep it tight in an opening 15 minutes in which both sides could easily have gone in front.

Sabrin Sburlea set the tone in the first minute with a deflected 20-yard strike which Frank Fielding tipped round the post.

Sburlea and Alexe both went close again and Fielding was almost caught in no man's land before England fashioned two decent chances of their own.

Chelsea striker Sturridge - the only change from Friday's win after Jack Wilshere joined the senior squad - forced a good stop from Silviu Lung and Phil Jones somehow failed to head Tom Cleverley's free-kick into the net.

But it was Sturridge who really should have scored just past the quarter-hour mark when he raced between two defenders to reach Danny Welbeck's through ball before scuffing his close-range finish too close to Lung.

Eric Bicfalvi almost bundled his way through five minutes later but Jones mopped up the danger.

Cleverley was unable to connect properly with Ryan Bertrand's fine 32nd-minute cross following a brief lull in the action.

Alexe wasted a glorious chance to put Romania ahead when he skied his left-foot finish from 12 yards after Fielding - who was racing off his line too often for comfort - parried Gabriel Torje's dipping long-ranger.

Danny Rose was booked for handball and England captain Michael Mancienne followed suit soon after for holding Ioan Hora.

An unsighted Fielding was almost caught out by the resulting free-kick from Torje, the Blackburn keeper just turning it behind.

Fabrice Muamba was fortunate not to concede an early second-half penalty when a foul on Bicfalvi was deemed to have been outside the box.

Otherwise, England were looking far more solid than they had in the first period, restricting their opponents to speculative long-range strikes. Sburlea had the best of them just after the hour mark, but Fielding was equal to it.

Romania immediately threw on Vlad Chiriches for Cornel Rapa, while England responded by introducing Henri Lansbury for Sturridge, who was booked for taking too long to leave the field.

Cleverley soon followed for a clumsy tackle on Torje, seconds before Fielding fumbled Sburlea's 30-yard shot, almost letting it squirm underneath him.

Raul Rusescu came on for Alexe and it was then Lung's turn to be nearly caught out when Cleverley's free-kick evaded everyone and the keeper parried it to safety.

Torje's corner caused chaos in the final seconds of injury-time but England survived.

  • Pearce hails gutsy display

    Stuart Pearce hailed his "gutsy'' England players after watching them seal a hat-trick of UEFA Under-21 Championship finals appearances with a tense play-off victory over Romania.

    "What we did show was determination and it was a really gutsy performance, certainly from the goalkeeper," Pearce said. "Right through the team, we showed guts and a few things were said at half-time in the dressing room, and the players took that on board.

    "We showed some more spirit in the second half of the match and we're just pleased to be here. The ten-day get-together was about getting two results to get to the finals.''

    Qualification is no mean feat for a side which has seen many of the stars which reached the tournament's final just over a year ago graduate to the senior set-up.

    Pearce said: "Make no mistake, it means a lot to those players. I'm fortunate enough to see the camaraderie every day, everything they do around the hotel and on the training pitch as well.

    "The players have got a real togetherness about them and when you've got that, you take it to the training pitch and away from it and it builds, and when you get a little bit of adversity, like we had today, it manifests itself. Credit to them - only the players can generate that amongst themselves.

    "We've got eight months to build on going to a major finals. I don't think there's another major nation that have played at Under-21 level that have been to three (straight) European finals, so credit to this group and the groups that have gone before them. I am really looking forward to working with this group again.''

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