Anthony Gordon told EnglandFootball.org this week that “My aim is to be Everton’s best player.” If he keeps playing like he did on his England U21s debut, that goal might one day be achieved. In a blustery Remembrance Day affair at Burnley’s Turf Moor, Lee Carsley’s U21s earned a crucial win over the Czech Republic that lifted them up from third in their group to second.
Debutant Gordon scored twice in the first half for England, whose counterattacks were rapid, decisive, and ultimately the undoing of the group-topping visitors. The Czechs had won all of their first four qualifiers, but they were unpicked here in the North West. This was without doubt the best performance yet of new manager Carsley’s tenure.
His previous highest was eight in a season, but Gordon already has 11 Premier League appearances for the Toffees this term. He wants a lot more than just appearances though, which he made clear when speaking to EnglandFootball.org.Embed from Getty Images
“I’m still nowhere near where I want to be, to be honest,” admitted the 20-year-old. “I see myself as a game-changer and a match-winner for Everton. At the minute, I’m playing really well but I’m not winning games for us. So until I’m doing that, I’ve just got to keep working and improving. That’s where I see myself and nothing else will be good enough.”
Luckily for former Everton player Carsley, the England U21s managed to harness the match-winning version of the youngster. Within four minutes, he had cut in from the left dangerously, and unleashed a right-foot effort which deflected off Martin Vitík and beat the keeper, Manchester United’s Matěj Kovář. England one up in an instant; Gordon the difference-maker.
Not seven minutes later, Gordon stole in to grab his and the hosts’ second. Striker Folarin Balogun fed the man of the moment, Crystal Palace’s Conor Gallagher. Kovář parried Gallagher’s drive away, but only into the feet on the onrushing Gordon. A calm tap-in for two.Embed from Getty Images
England could count on a superbly calm and composed centre-back partnership of captain Marc Guéhi and Manchester City’s teenager Taylor Harwood-Bellis, currently on loan at Anderlecht. Not only were they aerially dominant, but England’s centre-halves were progressive with ball at their feet. Numerous times, they slipped well-weighted passes through the holes for wingers Cole Palmer and Gordon on either side. The wreaked havoc in the Czech defence.
After Balogun was denied what should almost certainly have been a penalty when he was surely impeded by Jan Knapík, he scored England’s third and made the points as safe as points can be 29 minutes into a fixture.
Aston Villa starlet Jacob Ramsey overturned play and then ran at the Czechs with purpose. Balogun and Gallagher were over, to his right, and he duly played Balogun in. The last time Palace ace Gallagher was in Lancashire, he scored and assisted in the Eagles’ fine victory at Manchester City. He wanted to receive Ramsey’s pass too — and frankly got in Balogun’s way — but the United States-born Arsenal striker slotted coolly to make it three. A first U21s goal for Balogun.
Leicester City left-back Luke Thomas perhaps didn’t have quite as impressive a game as many of his teammates, and gave away a penalty as the half-time whistle approached. Referee Michael Fabbri pointed to the spot after his foul on Adam Karabec. The Czech Republic’s No 10 struck the ball high down the centre of the goal to cut the deficit.Embed from Getty Images
Gallagher and midfield partner Oliver Skipp of Tottenham Hotspur started to dictate proceedings in the second period, smartly controlling a game that needed closing out rather than naively risking by England. They came into the match third in the group and so three points here were pivotal. Goal difference was always going to be secondary.
Pavel Šulc whipped the ball just wide from range as the Czechs mounted pressure late in the game. But this pressure came very late — too late. Four minutes of added time were never going to be enough for the visitors, however technical their attackers had shown themselves to be.
Carsley’s England saw the contest out, and have three very tasty points to add to their collection. This was a huge step indeed, on the road to the 2023 U21s Euros. Gordon became a match-winner. Next up, away to Georgia in Batumi on Tuesday.