By Jon Couch in Žiar nad Hronom
PAUL FAIRCLOUGH heaped praise on his England C bravehearts after their bid to land the International Challenge Trophy ended in a 4-0 defeat to Slovakia in the Ziar nad Hronon stadium.
After an encouraging start, the Three Lions hopes were left in tatters after a crazy five-minute spell at the end of the first half which saw Slovakia score the opener and miss a penalty before England full-back Andrew Cartwright was sent off for a rash challenge on David Ivan.
A goal inside 56 seconds of the re-start compounded the misery before two more goals ended the tie as a contest.
But Fairclough’s men still had one more blow to endure – Alex Wynter’s last-minute glancing header from Jack Powell’s free-kick chalked off for offside. It was one of those days.
“I’m very proud of the lads,” Fairclough reflected. “Slovakia are a very technical side, very skilful, very strong, very powerful, but for 30-35 minutes there was not a great deal in it. And in actual fact the the stats showed we probably got into their box more that they did ours and got in more shots than them.
“However, there was a foul on our centre half leading up to their first goal and we might have got away with a yellow card for the sending off. It did look a fierce tackle and that’s where the game hinges.
“We had to re-jig things around at half-time and sacrifice a couple of lads who had done well, and spent a good five minutes talking about how we could get through the first five minutes – and then they scored after 56 seconds!
“From then on in it was a tough call but we kept going and even when we were three and four-nil down, we were still looking to score.
“I can’t fault any of the players for their commitment. That’s probably the most prepared we have ever been for a football pitch. You just can’t legislate for things like that.”
With players representing the likes of Benfica, Sampdoria and Lille in their ranks, Slovakia had quality in abundance and started the brighter with Filip Orsula, in particular, looking lively. That said, it was a cross from the left which brought the first chance when the dangerous Lukas Skovajsa found the head of Pavol Safranko eight yards out but his effort flew inches over.
Grant Smith kept England C in it with two point-blank saves to deny Jakub Paur’s header and Skovajsa’s free-kick before the Three Lions responded with Fejiri Okenabirhie and Sam Barratt forcing a fine double save from keeper Adam Jakubech on the half hour.
But, on 37 minutes, it was the hosts who broke the deadlock – Skovajsa’s cross from the left finding Orsula, who chested the ball home across goal and slid the ball over the committed Smith.
If that wasn’t bad enough, two minutes later, Barratt brought down Skovajsa in the box, only for Lubomir Satka to smash his spot kick on top of the crossbar.
And it didn’t end there – Cartwright lunging in on Ivan right in front of Icelandic referee Heldi Jonasson who produced the red card when yellow might have sufficed.
Fairclough’s response was to bring on Joe Ward and Dan Johnson for Barratt and Josh Rees at the break but within seconds the task got even greater when Ivan fired into the far corner, evading the desperate lunge of Louis John.
By now Slovakia were in full flow and when half-time substitute Michal Fasko latched onto Ivan’s through ball to slot past Smith, it was a question of how many the hosts would score in front of a jubilant home crowd.
Credit to England C, though, they kept plugging away with two David Ferguson crosses from the left fashioning good headed chances for Jake Gallagher and Ward before Wolves midfielder Christian Herc headed home number four on 69 minutes from Fasko’s deep cross.
Morgan Ferrier and Jack Powell both saw rasping efforts fly narrowly wide of the frame, and the frustration was compounded in the final minute – Powell’s in-swinging free-kick from the left finding the head of Alex Wynter, who glanced the ball expertly inside the far post, only to be denied by the assistant referee’s flag
The final whistle was greeted to raptures by the capacity crowd, while the warm appreciation for the Three Lions by the home fans heralded a brave display. Sadly for Fairclough and his squad, it proved a step too far.
ENGLAND: Smith (Hall 82); Cartwright, Ferguson, John, Wynter, Gallagher (Powell 67), Barratt (Johnson 46), Croasdale, Ferrier, Rees (Ward 46), Okenabirhie (Afolayan 76).
SLOVAKIA: Jakubech; Ninaj, Valjent, Huk, Ivan, Chrien, Paur, Orsula, Satka, Skovajsa, Safranko. Subs: Greif; Tupta, Kadlec, Fasko, Chvatal, Herc, Cernak.
Tagged England C