Chris Smalling's first goal for England Under-21s gave Stuart Pearce's side a slender 2-1 lead from the first leg of their European Championship play-off against a well-organised Romania side at Carrow Road.
Sunderland youngster Jordan Henderson volleyed England ahead just after the hour mark, only for an unfortunate deflection off Ryan Bertrand to hand Romania a crucial away goal.
However, Smalling, the 20-year-old Manchester United centre-back, slotted home from close range with just seven minutes left after a knockdown from substitute Daniel Sturridge.
Pearce had warned Romania would be no pushovers, having won their group in impressive fashion, and so it proved. The visitors were not just content to sit back as Dinamo Bucharest youngster Marius Alexe, a reported target for Chelsea, looked lively in attack while Gabriel Torje struck the post a minute before the interval.
England created the first decent opening inside four minutes. Goalkeeper Silviu Lung punched Bertrand's cross clear, only for the ball to drop right to Henderson 25 yards out, and the Sunderland midfielder's first-time volley was acrobatically turned away by the Romanian stopper.
England keeper Frank Fielding got down quickly to make a smart save as Eric Bicfalvi cut into the left side of the area and drilled a low shot back across the face of goal.
The referee turned down what this time looked a strong penalty shout as Tottenham's Danny Rose was barged over by Valerica Gaman, much to the frustration of the sell-out 25,750 crowd
In the second period, England captain Michael Mancienne drilled a low shot in from 25 yards, which was deflected around the post. From the resulting corner, Lung again punched clear, the ball fell to Henderson once more and the midfielder's volley flew back into the bottom corner under the arms of the Romania keeper.
But the visitors snatched a crucial away goal with 20 minutes to play. A quick break and a neat exchange around the England area saw the ball worked out to Ioan Hora on the right, with his low centre spinning off Bertrand and inside the near post past a wrong-footed Fielding.
Pearce immediately made a change as he replaced Tom Cleverley with Aston Villa's Marc Albrighton and then introduced Sturridge for Danny Welbeck with 10 minutes left. It proved an inspired tactical switch as Sturridge headed back a corner at the far post into a crowded six-yard box, which Jack Wilshere flicked on and Smalling crashed in to give England a lead to defend in Botosani on Tuesday.