his was to be far from the romp that their senior counterparts enjoyed on Saturday night but England Under-21 escaped the Estadi Nacional with only egos bruised and three more European Championship qualifying points after a tougher-than-anticipated encounter with Andorra.
For a second year in succession England’s most senior age-group side made difficult work of an ostensibly inferior Andorran opponent as a well-built, tenacious side with the same hard edges of rock surrounding their Pyrenean home.
It took England 67 minutes to dismantle a well-built red wall and only after a rare forward foray from the home side, who battled with tenacity and organisation to very nearly frustrate their more illustrious opponents, who had Rhian Brewster controversially dismissed.
This was an Andorran squad made up of players mostly from the fourth and fifth tier of Spanish football, some of whom are only part-time, standing in stark contrast to an England side containing plenty of Premier League regulars.
The first half was largely one-way traffic though without the accelerations such an arrangement tends to entail. On a choppy surface, England moved the ball efficiently left and right and looked largely composed in possession but were unable to knock-down a well-constructed red wall.
Indeed, while opposite number Etienne Green was afforded a true armchair ride on debut, Andorra’s goalkeeper Ion Rodriguez Gimenez seldom had to shed his slippers in the opening 45 minutes.
Soon after half-time Carsley’s side should have gone ahead. A delightful curled ball to the far post from James Garner invited Rhian Brewster to provide the finishing touches but the centre forward could not provide a sufficient contact to paint the ball into the corner.
Moments later, England were reduced to ten. Brewster had endured a difficult night in front of goal but there appeared limited fault on his part as he blindly backed into an Andorran defender.
Even after the defender tumbled it was a surprise to see, a foul given; the flash of yellow that belatedly followed the referee’s whistle all the more so. A furious, incredulous Brewster made his frustration clear as he was ushered off after his second booking.
Carsley had been set to withdraw the striker in a bid for an attacking spark from Folarin Balogun but was instead forced to make a like-for-like midfield swap, with Curtis Jones, who the manager had vowed not to risk after a groin injury, introduced in the place of Garner.
He would play a leading role as the opener finally arrived from Andorra’s first corner. With the home side tempted beyond their shell for virtually the first time at the prospect of a rare opportunity to load the box, a giveaway allowed England to break against limited numbers.
Jones was able to stretch his legs and burst free of the retreating Andorrans, tickling a pass of perfect weight beyond the last defender for the onrushing Smith Rowe— the Arsenal midfielder found the bottom corner calmly.
From there it was a case of if the withheld Andorran unit could find progress for a chance of their own, and perhaps a repeat of the heroics here in 2020. England, then managed by Aidy Boothroyd, had been stunningly held 3-3 on that occasion despite the Pyrenean minnows having just 18% possession.
Andorra went one better here, edging ever closer to seeing a full fifth of the game’s ball, but Green had nary a save to make even after Brewster’s dismissal and it was England pressing for a second at the end, twice winning free-kicks taken with chalky boots from the box-edge but unable to add to their tally.
Carsley will not recall his night fondly for England were certainly devoid of invention but his side were able to make their exit with the win. The two sets of players may well take divergent paths from this point but on this evidence the future may be brighter for Andorra than their full representative side showed on Saturday.