Young starlets fall to surprise defeat

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England blew a golden chance to put one foot in the European Under-21 Championship play-offs last night as Belgium grabbed a late winner to send qualifying Group Eight back into the balance.

Martin Kelly’s early goal looked set to maintain the Young Lions’ 100 per cent record in the group but a double substitution by the home side proved a masterstroke as Jens Naessens equalised 18 minutes from time and Omar El Kaddouri pounced in the dying seconds after Jordan Henderson missed a glorious chance for the visitors. The result lifted Belgium up to second in the table, four points behind England ahead of February’s return meeting between the sides.

The manner of England’s defeat was eerily similar to this summer’s loss to Czech Republic, which saw them crash out of the finals in Denmark, and head coach Pearce will be hoping a similar fate does not befall his latest crop of youngsters in their last three group games.

Barnsley’s midfield maestro Jacob Butterfield was an unused substitute in England’s shock setback.