Any Tottenham fans who tuned in to view our younger stars in action this weekend against Serbia in the first leg of the playoff for the 2013 U-21 Euros would have walked away with pride as a three-quarter Spurs back line produced an excellent rearguard display to seal an important win for Stuart Pearce's side. Adam Smith, Steven Caulker and Danny Rose all produced high-quality 90-minute performances to keep Jack Butland's goal shielded from any real threat. A lively cameo from their teammate Andros Townsend also provided yet another glimpse of the promise that the young winger can offer to the first team this season.
Lining up on opposite flanks, Smith and Rose both provided outstanding threat on the overlap, bombing forwards to help keep the momentum of the team's attacks going and pinning back the opposition wingers with ease. Encouraging, Rose is really starting show signs that he's figured out what defensive duties entail, demonstrating good awareness and recovery time to ensure that action in the English half down the Serb's right flank was very limited. Perhaps this is one to chalk up to the Martin O'Neill's decision to play the on-loan prospect as a full-time left back in his Sunderland side; by the end of the season, it's starting to look like we might be accepting back a better rounded defensive option who could provide a capable understudy to Benoit Assou-Ekotto. His inviting cross onto the penalty spot in the 12th minute which was unfortunately headed badly wide by Thomas Ince also provided a glimpse of the kind of retained technical quality that made him "Danny Rose on his Premier League debut" all those years ago.
By far the more impressive player, however, and one of England's brightest sparks throughout the game was Adam Smith, who demonstrated not only ambition and pace down the flank but some flashes of incredible nimbleness and trickery too. By the end of 90 minutes, he had successfully pulled off a cheeky keepy-up flick over a defender, a smart backheel and a brilliant swerving through ball, and it was ultimately his deftness and work rate that proved the decisive factor in the match when he drew a clear foul in the 63rd minute to win a penalty that was ultimately well-taken by Craig Dawson. Smith is a fantastic overlapping full back and shows signs of the kind of positioning and awareness that the users of this site constantly crave more of from the likes of Kyle Walker, and for this reason I'm highly interested to see what Daniel Levy's plans for him are in the coming months.
Finally, on to the two players who had less auspicious but equally solid games for the victorious England side; Caulker and Townsend. The latter had a quiet game owing to the grip that England managed to hold over the midfield for most of the game, yet was more than competent when called upon to make clearances and once again shone in his ball playing out of defense. Most importantly, Caulker demonstrated once again that he could walk into the first team as arguably our best aerial threat in the 82nd minute with an ingenious late run and bullet header off of a Townsend corner which was denied by an incredible save from the Serbian keeper Aleksic. As he also showed in the game vs. Lazio, Caulker has the instinct of a target man forward when the ball is aimed at his head, a trait that keeps him very much in the mix for my money for a regular CB slot going forwards.
Andros Townsend had considerably less time than his peers to make an impression on the game, entering in the 65th minute, yet even in the short period of time his appearance spanned he managed to feed Ince through for decent chances (all of which were ultimately wasted) after beating his man with his outstanding dribbling skills. Lennon's Eyebrow described Townsend to me last night as having more of the Dembélé (intelligence and ball-glued-to-foot skills) than the Bale about him, and I think that's an excellent comparison to make. Townsend offers something more than pace and physicality, and against sides that we struggle to break down throughout the season it certainly looks he could ultimately make a huge difference with his lock-picking abilities.
In all, much to be proud of from the performances of all four players, and judging by the turgid performance from England's senior side against San Marino played on the same night any UK Spurs fans looking to take pride in their homegrown players on an international stage should look no further than our stars in the U-21s this season going forward.
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