(HAT-TRICK HERO: Dagenham and Redbridge’s Fejiri Okenabirhie)
FULL ACTION AND REACTION IN SUNDAY’S NLP
Wales C: 2
M Jones 63, Venables 80
England C: 3
Okenabirhie 10, 53, 75
Wales: Morris; K Edwards, Pearson, Rawlinson, Hugh; Gossett (Cotterill 79), A Edwards; Evans (Arsan 82), Venables, Owen (T Jones 60); Roscrow (M Jones 60)
Subs not used: Lewis, C Williams, N Edwards, G Williams
England: Smith (Montgomery 81); Ling, Horsfall (J Jones 73), Staunton, D Jones; Ramshaw (Adams 62), Croasdale, Pinnock; Hardy, Maguire (Gilchrist 77), Okenabirhie (Barratt 81)
By Matt Badcock
Fejiri Okenabirhie fired an England C treble as Non-League’s Three Lions won a thriller in at Jenner Park.
The Dagenham & Redbridge forward opened the scoring before putting the visitors two ahead early in the second-half.
Wales hit back through substitute Mark Jones before Okenabirhie hammered in a third.
Again, Wales climbed off the canvas to cut the deficit – this time through Chris Venables.
They were some heart in mouth moments in stoppage time as the Welsh threw everything at an equaliser, but to no avail.
This was England C’s first game since defeat in the International Challenge Trophy final defeat to Slovakia U21 last November.
Boss Paul Fairclough, who picks his squad from Non-League’s Under-23 talents, handed debuts to seven players in his starting line-up.
That included the whole back four of Leyton Orient’s Sam Ling, Kidderminster Harriers’ Fraser Horsfall – a late replacement for Sutton’s Louis John, Woking’s Josh Staunton and Barrow left-back Dan Jones.
For Wales, it was a debut C international with the team made up of Welsh Premier League players of all ages.
The game’s first chance fell to the hosts after just eight minutes. After some pinball in England’s box and a brave block by Staunton, Danny Gossett hit a fierce shot that was brilliantly saved by Grant Smith, before the Boreham Wood stopper palmed the loose ball behind for a corner.
Within two minutes, England had gone up the other end and grabbed the opener. Dan Maguire burst in behind the defence before unselfishly squaring for Okenabirhie, who strode onto the ball and flashed into the top corner.
England were starting to put some good attacking moves together. Mitch Pinnock had a free-kick from 25 yards just over the crossbar before captain Ryan Croasdale’s stinging drive was well held by Wales keeper Ashley Morris above his head.
The Bala Town man was soon in action again after James Hardy showed good feet to find Pinnock, whose rising shot was tipped over.
Fairclough’s demand for his team to pass was showing as they zipped the ball about Jenner Park’s 3G surface.
But Wales were ready to pounce and they were almost level when they won the ball back in midfield where John Owen fizzed a shot past Smith’s right-hand post. Then Adam Roscrow had a shot deflected behind for a corner as Wales continued their hunt for an equaliser.
Wales could have found themselves further behind on the stroke of half-time, however. Ling sent Maguire in behind the defence, the Blyth Spartans’ frontman cut back for Hardy, and his side-foot came back off the bar. Okenabirhie seemed set to mop up, only to see his cushioned header go over.
Wales were looking for a bright start and Owen soon called Smith into action, low at his near post. England broke from the corner and, after good work by Maguire, Okenabirhie got off a shot that was held by Morris.
The Daggers attacker didn’t have to wait long to get his second and it came on 53 minutes from the penalty spot. Maguire cut inside from the right and was tripped inside the box by Chris Hugh – Okenabirhie slamming the ball low inside the post beyond Morris’ dive.
Wales boss Mark Jones made changes from the bench and it was his namesake who made an immediate impact, turning in the area to fire in and cut the deficit on 63 minutes.
The action continued to see-saw. On 75 minutes, Okenabirhie got his third when he fired in from outside the box to restore the two-goal advantage.
Back came Wales, just five minutes later, when the experienced Venables smashed in.
Fairclough had promised all his players minutes and sub keeper James Montgomery was in action immediately to beat the ball away.
The crowd could sense and equaliser. Aeron Edwards had an opening, but shot over and England twice had to scramble clear as they held on for a thrilling win.