The other day we had Michael Graham on praising Billy Knott’s performance against North Korea, whilst also bemoaning the tactical decision to play him on the left hand side of midfield.
In the early hours of this morning, Billy & Blair both started for England against a strong Argentinean U20 squad which included the likes of Erik Lamela (the next, next, next Maradona), recently snapped up by Roma and Juan Iturbe of Porto. A tough test for our lads, but they came through with flying colours.
Here’s our report of what went on, and how they got on...
As stated, both Knott & Adams started the game for the young lions. Blair Adams continuing in the familiar left-back position, whilst Head Coach, Brian Eastick clearly must have read our lament earlier in the week and shifted Billy Knott inside as part of a three behind Saido Berahino.
England spend most the first 20 minutes under the cosh as a Argentina piled the pressure on Jack Butland’s goal.
Blair Adams was generally solid at the back, barring one or two stray passes when under pressure, but his play going forward was exceptional. The left-back who’s often featured as an unused substitute for the lads got forward at every opportunity, and played a couple of handy crosses.
His link up play with Wigan’s Callum McManaman down the left was impressive. The right footed McManaman happy to play one-two’s with Adams, and cut inside whilst Adams provided an overlap. A feature which will put him in good stead with our first team since no ‘out and out’ left winger seems to be arriving.
Billy Knott was lively throughout too. Unfortunately he has Berahino in front of him, who is apparently a striker, but wearing number four, combined with his limited ability you’d be forgiving he was a centre-half who couldn’t be bothered to get back.
Knott’s biggest moment came in the first half around the half hour mark. Blair Adams had linked well with McManaman, only to send his cross way off from Knott in the middle. It did however find Matt Phillips, who sent a teasing cross into the six yard box for Knott to pounce on and put past Esteban Andrada with style... Only to be ruled offside. Correctly offside too, I must add, but only by a smidge with replays showing it was basically Billy’s head that was the wrong side of the defender.
With half-time approaching there was just enough time for Knott – easily England’s best player – to have another strike on goal. Following some decent play from Phillips and Berahino, Knott had Andrada scrambling across his goal, but the 20-yard strike could only ripple the outside of the net, and we went into the break even at 0-0.
The second half was a much more physical affair, and also a frustrating one for our lads. Knott continued in the middle, seemingly almost as a second striker to Berahino. Knott took up great positions, ghosting between the two centre-backs, neither of whom seemed to want to pick him up, but unfortunately young Billy wasn’t found often enough by Phillips & McManaman, and what impact he could have had never really came.
There were clear signs of Knott being suited to a 'Sessegnon Role' for both England, and our side. Whilst we often thought of recent academy graduates Grant Leadbitter & Jordan Henderson as attacking players, Knott is a cut above, and a breed apart. Don't expect him to be back mucking in and chasing lost balls with any real fire, that's not his game. Skillful and attacking, bringing others into play well and a danger to any side with the ball at feet.
As for our other England international, Blair Adams, his second half was also fairly subdued, although was more out of necessity than preference as the game turned from end-to-end stuff to an intense physical battle.
Argentina were lucky to keep eleven men on the pitch when Roberto Pereyra gave Adam Smith a frustrated kicking, unfortunately it was to be England who finished with ten men, as unfortunately for us Blair Adams who was stretchered off with four minutes to play. It doesn't look to be too serious as he was sitting up having a well earned gulp of water and not visibly in pain.
All in all, two solid, confident and impressive performances from our two boys, proving there is yet more fantastic work being done over at the Academy Of Light.
England take on Mexico on Thursday, needing at least a point to go through as one of the best 3rd placed teams and qualify for the knockout stages.