Yesterday Stuart Pearce handed Andros Townsend his first start with the England U-21 side while Adam Smith earned yet another youth cap for his country. Both players went 60 minutes in a dominant England performance that the 2-0 scoreline fails to adequately capture.
Townsend has so far had a tough time breaking into the U-21 side, and has lately struggled for playing time behind rising stars Tom Ince and Wilfried Zaha. But with Zaha getting his first call up into the senior squad, Townsend finally got a chance to show Pearce what he can do.
The first five to ten minutes didn't go particularly well for Andros. He struggled to maintain possession early on, plagued by a heavy touch that handed the ball straight to the Northern Irish defenders the first few times he went on a run. But as he settled into the game and his confidence grew, Townsend showed the ability and potential we all know he has.
Around the tenth minute, he did well to create space for a shot after receiving the ball just outside the box. He jinked past a defender, touched the ball into space, and let off a cracker that the Northern Irish goalkeeper did very well to save. From then on, Townsend looked ready to take on the world. He showed an impressive diversity in his play, equally comfortable cutting inside for the shot or beating men down the wing to put in a cross.
Townsend was unlucky not to record at least one assist for his efforts, as he had the beating of his man seemingly at will. He whipped in several crosses and cut backs that could have resulted in goals were it not for Whickham's profligacy in front of goal.
He showed excellent dribbling skills and although he has tons of pace, he doesn't rely on it to beat his man the same way Lennon or Bale do. One of his impressive runs drew the foul that led to the game's opener from the resulting free kick.
In the second half, he showed he's been learning from Gareth Bale as he FRAAB'd around the pitch, often coming very central to get involved in the game. On the one hand, the lack of positional discipline may be worrying, but on the other, I have to respect and appreciate his hunger to be involved rather than let himself drift out of the game.
If there's any criticism to level at him, I'd say his final ball isn't quite there yet, and his decision making isn't always as good as you'd like it to be. On one occasion in particular he burst past his man and drove towards the goal along the goal line, and rather than pull the back across the goal mouth he took a shot from an impossible angle.
He outshone Tom Ince on the other wing in almost every respect, but the Blackpool man has still taken the plaudits from the media despite yet another in a string of subpar national team performances, this time on his home ground of Bloomfield Road. Maybe I'm just a homer, but Ince did not have a great game (one dazzling dribble into the box aside). His decision making showed a real lack of maturity and oftentimes it looked like he was playing Playstation, dribbling into good positions, only to cut back and hope for a foul or look for a square ball to the expected onrushing unmarked striker (you know what I mean, we've all tried that move on FIFA). Except this was real life, and it worked zero times.
The other Spurs player on display was our favorite right back-cum-economist, Adam Smith. Smith continues to look excellent without looking spectacular. I mean that as a total compliment. Positionally, he always seems to be exactly where he needs to be to receive a pass or put in a challenge. His head is always up, and you can see the awareness and intelligence going on behind his eyes. He's clearly always thinking moves ahead and preparing for what's coming next, rather than relying on physical gifts to bail him out of trouble.
His decision making is wonderful for someone of his age and I was consistently impressed with his use of the ball. He passed to the right people at the right times, crossed when he should, left the ball for his teammates when they were in a better position. At one point he found himself penned in by defenders upfield without an obvious passing outlet, only to cleverly backheel the ball to a teammate who by all rights he shouldn't have even known was there.
Defensively, he didn't have a whole lot to do as Northern Ireland rarely got out of their own half. Still, he put in competent challenges when his winger ran at him and never really got burned. He looked very composed possessing the ball in the backfield, and even near our own box under pressure, he never seemed rattled or hurried and always calmly found an out ball to get out of danger.
All told, both of our youngsters had impressive displays against what was an admittedly poor Northern Ireland side, and if this post seems like I'm gushing a little too effusively over these guys, it's only because I have such high hopes for their future with Spurs.
The future is bright, the future is Lilywhite.