Sunderland pair Jake Clarke-Salter and Ovie Ejaria were excellent in the England U21s 2-1 victory over Romania this evening at Molineux Stadium.
Both men gave superb performances in their first international appearances at under 21 level, with Clarke-Salter scoring the winner and claiming BT Sport’s man of the match award in the process.
Despite the fact both players have struggled with the physicality of the Championship and the pressures of playing for a club struggling in a relegation battle, they were both calm, assured and highly influential playing alongside more technical individuals than we have on Wearside.
Whilst BT Sport pundit Clive Allen gave Clarke-Salter man of the match honours, he could just as easily have picked Ejaria. The Liverpool loanee was excellent linking attacks, showing composure and creativity we’ve only seen glimpses of at the Stadium of Light.
Ejaria was amongst England’s most dangerous players in a dominant start for the home side, which eventually lead to Demari Gray’s opener in the eighth minute.
England kept their one goal advantage up to half-time, in part due to an excellent piece of last ditch defending from our on loan centre back. Andrei Ivan slotted past Dean Henderson, but was denied at full stretch by Clarke-Salter who managed to get the faintest of touches onto the ball to divert it onto the far post. It was a goal saving intervention from the 20-year-old.
Clarke-Salter took over the England captaincy when Gray was substituted in the 58th minute and scored England’s crucial second soon after in a dream debut at under 21 level.
Escaping his marker, the wiry defender glanced in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s in-swinging corner at the near-post. The powerful header crashed off the inside of the post, leaving Ionut Radu rooted in the Romania goal.
Romania pulled a goal back with ten minutes to go to ensure a nervy finish, but ultimately England held on, meaning Clarke-Salter and Ejaria enjoyed that winning feeling for the first time in months.
The Under 21s are in action again on Tuesday as they host Ukraine at Bramall Lane in a European Championship qualifier.
Chris Coleman and his coaching staff face the difficult challenge of getting these youngsters to replicate their England youth team form in Sunderland shirts - though Clarke-Salter will obviously face a two game wait to return to the fold after his idiotic sending off against Preston North End.