ORIENT goalkeeper coach Kevin Dearden was delighted with O’s youngster Charlie Grainger who impressed on his England U18s debut on Wednesday at St. George’s Park though could not prevent the Young Lions slipping to a 2-1 defeat against Croatia.
Dearden, who attended the game at St. George’s said: “I think Charlie can be very pleased with his England debut, I felt he put in a decent performance, it’s not easy making your debut at that level but he seemed to take it all in his stride. He made a couple of good saves and his general all-round goalkeeping was very tidy. It can only have been a very positive experience being around the international set-up and will stand him in good stead for his future development.”
There were a number of positives for Neil Dewsnip to take from Wednesday’s game though, with England certainly worthy of more than a defeat on this occasion.
The Young Lions enjoyed the better of the possession and the chances, with the visitors seemingly more intent on trying to win free-kicks for the majority of the game.
Croatia were simply more clinical when their opportunities came though, and will head back home after this double-header with two wins to their name although it will be Dewsnip’s youngsters who will have learned more from the matches.
They could even have been ahead inside two minutes, when Charlie Colkett’s free-kick picked out skipper Bryn Morris in the area but he didn’t get quite enough on it and Dario Miskic saved.
The Croatian ‘keeper was called into action again after 15 minutes, when a cross from Ben Chilwell on the left was glanced goalwards by Dean Rittenburg with Miskic again equal to it.
Blackburn Rovers striker Rittenburg came even closer just before the half-hour mark when a quick pass from Jermaine Anderson picked him out in the box. He side-stepped his marker, but his powerful shot was turned behind by Miskic for a corner.
England deservedly edged ahead seven minutes before the break, when Reece Brown’s close control on the touchline provided Anderson with an opportunity to slide a pass into the path of Sonupe.
He easily out-paced Petar Mamic before firing a low shot at goal. Miskic couldn’t hold it and Sonupe was well-placed to smash the rebound in.
But having worked so hard to take the lead, England were hit by an instant equaliser from Croatia, who were back level within a minute. A chipped pass forward from the back was latched onto by striker Fran Brodic, who beat both Morris and ‘keeper Grainger to the ball to slip a shot home the leveller.
Croatia made four changes at the break and their performance picked up, with those introduced clearly keen to make an impression on boss Zoran Vulic.
And Grainger had to make an impressive save ten minutes after the re-start when England gave the ball away in a dangerous area to allow subs Ante Coric and Ante Blazevic a chance to combine.
It ended with Blazevic hitting a low shot at goal, which was heading for the bottom corner until Leyton Orient stopper Grainger got his fingertips to it to turn away to safety.
And England almost took the lead in the 69th minute when debutant Jack Whatmough of Portsmouth crashed a header against the bar after getting on the end of Colkett’s corner from the right.
If that was unfortunate for England, it got even worse a few minutes later, as it was one of the Croatian replacements who was next on the scoresheet.
The visitors worked the ball well across the pitch, before striker Karlo Lulic was picked out on the left channel. He controlled well and steadied himself, before slotting past Grainger and into the far corner to put his team ahead.
England spent the final ten minutes in search of an equaliser, but also having to measure the threat of a Croatian counter attack.
The nearest England came was when Morris got on the end of a cross from the right, but his downward header was straight at Miskic, who gratefully held on to complete what was no doubt a memorable double for his team.
For England, it was a disappointing end but undoubtedly one in which Dewsnip and his staff will be keen to learn from and improve upon.
England U18s: (1-4-3-3): 1 Charlie Grainger (Leyton Orient); 2 Ashley Smith Brown (Manchester City), 3 Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), 5 Jack Whatmough (Portsmouth), 6 Bryn Morris (c) (Middlesbrough); 4 Charlie Colkett (Chelsea), 8 Reece Brown Birmingham City), 10 Jermaine Anderson (Peterborough United); 7 Emmanuel Sonupe (Tottenham Hotspur), 9 Dean Rittenburg (Blackburn Rovers), 11 Alex Kiwomya (Chelsea).
Substitutes: 18 Brandon Barker (Manchester City) for Rittenburg (59), 15 Dele Alli (MK Dons) for Colkett (72), 17 Demarai Gray (Birmingham City) for Sonupe (78), 16 Cameron Brannagan (Liverpool) for Brown (86).
Substitutes not used: 13 Callum Burton (Shrewsbury Town), 12 Kyle Knoyle (West Ham United), 14 Reece Burke (West Ham United).
Head Coach: Neil Dewsnip.
Goals: Emmanuel Sonupe (38).
Cautions: Jack Whatmough (8), Jermaine Anderson (52).
Croatia U18s: 12 Dario Miskic, 2 Marko Stolnik, 3 Petar Mamic, 4 Ivan Sunjic, 5 Duje Caleta-Car, 6 Franjo Prce, 7 Marin J Akolis, 8 Bojan Knezevic, 9 Fran Brodic, 10 Ante Rogulic (c), 11 Elvir Maloku.
Substitutes: 15 Ante Coris for Maloku, 16 Ante Blazevic for Brodic, 17 Nikola Vlasic for Akolis,18 Karlo Lulic for Rogulic (all 46), 13 Andrija Balic for Stolnik (77), 14 Hrvoje Dzijan for Sunjic (77).
Substitute not used: 1 Ivo Grbic.
Head Coach: Zoran Vulic.
Cautions: Franjo Prce (58), Ante Blazevic (60), Karlo Luli (74), Karlo Lulic (90)