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Shelvey stars as England U21s win
Published : 06 Sep 2012 20:47:43
Jonjo Shelvey scored one and set up another as England moved within touching distance of the UEFA Under-21 Championship play-offs with a 2-0 victory in Azerbaijan.
Liverpool midfielder Shelvey's first goal for the Young Lions followed Steven Caulker's third to send Stuart Pearce's men five points clear at the top of qualifying Group Eight with one match remaining.
That is on Monday against Norway, who need to win in Belgium in Thursday's late kick-off and beat England in Chesterfield in four days' time to deny their rivals a place in next month's two-legged play-offs.
Thursday's victory was the Young Lions' sixth out of their seven qualifiers and saw Pearce hand a debut to Thomas Ince, son of former England star Paul, on an artificial pitch against opponents England had thrashed 6-0 a year earlier.
Craig Dawson was booked in the 25th minute for exacting retribution on Rizvan Umarov after being caught himself but he had the last laugh three minutes later when centre-back partner Caulker powered England ahead, the Tottenham man heading in Shelvey's left-wing free-kick.
Caulker should have made it 2-0 two minutes later when he glanced Ince's far-post cross wide before Azerbaijan goalkeeper Salahat Agayev produced some unconventional heroics to keep the hosts in it.
A goalmouth scramble saw him keep out Martin Kelly's deflected cross and deny Marvin Sordell before Wilfried Zaha's follow-up was cleared off the line. Agayev then looked stranded after completely missing a cross but he recovered to produce an astonishing near-post save from Sordell, who looked certain to convert after Danny Rose kept the ball in play.
Azerbaijan, who had thrown on Orkhan Hasanov at the break, began to get a grip and, after some harmless long shots, they might have levelled on the hour mark when Javid Imamverdiyev curled narrowly high and wide.
Pearce took immediate action by sending on debutant Ben Marshall for Zaha but the hosts continued to push. Ben Amos - who had looked untroubled filling in for ill goalkeeper Jason Steele - saved from Araz Abdullayev, prompting Connor Wickham's introduction for Sordell.
Mirhuseyin Seyidov's free-kick was easily claimed by Amos and Azerbaijan went for broke in the final 10 minutes with a double substitution of their own. But it backfired seven minutes from time as Wickham nodded Caulker's long ball into the path of Shelvey, who volleyed emphatically beyond the onrushing keeper.