1-0, Gray 5'. 1-1, Conti 13'. 1-2, Di Francesco 28'. 2-2, Baker 59'. 3-2, Stephens 90+3'.
England under-21 3-2 Italy under-21: Stephens strikes winner on home ground

England under-21 3-2 Italy under-21: Stephens strikes winner on home ground

The young Lions' incredible run continues.

Ben Strange

A late goal from Jack Stephens sealed a 3-2 victory for the England U21s against Italy U21s in an international friendly at St Mary’s Stadium.

A match that looked to be heading for a 2-2 draw was won right at the death as Stephens poked the ball home to give Aidy Boothroyd’s side a deserved victory.

The contest saw Boothroyd’s side take the lead and then go behind before levelling up and finding a winner in the second half in a match where the young Lions gained more valuable experience.

Entertainment from start to finish

The friendly match gave interim-boss Boothroyd an opportunity to provide a number of his players with a chance against a well revered Italian side that have won five trophies at youth level.

The young Lions got off to a wonderful start in Southampton as Demarai Gray pounced on a loose ball in the area, after John Swift’s effort was blocked, to put England 1-0 up after just five minutes.

The youngster struck first time with his right foot to leave Italian goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini with little hope of saving.

Lewis Baker then went close moments later for the home side but his shot, just outside of the 18-yard-box, was saved well.

But despite an impressive start, the Italians were back level on 13 minutes, after Andrea Conti’s deep cross from the right took an awkward deflection off of Brendan Galloway to loop over England 'keeper Angus Gunn into the far corner.

The Italians then had another good chance through striker Andrea Petagna as his curled effort skipped just wide of Gunn’s near post. Shortly after that, England striker Swift limped off after suffering an injury.

With Swift off the field, the away side then took the lead on 28 minutes as Federico Di Francesco volleyed in from a corner from close range, taking advantage of some poor England marking the Bologna winger lost Nathan Redmond easily in the England penalty area.

Swift was then replaced by Will Hughes and shortly after the visitors were forced into making their first change of the evening as goal scorer Di Francesco limped off clutching his leg and he was replaced by Vittorio Paragini.

England then went close to levelling the tie after a wide free-kick was swung in by captain James Ward-Prowse and Chelsea’s Nathaniel Chalobah rose above the Italian defence, but he could only direct his header inches over Gollini’s goal.

The lively Gray, who often looked dangerous with the likes of Redmond on the break, felt that he should have had a penalty after he went down in the area towards the end of the half, but referee Sandro Scharer waved away the youngster’s claims.  

England fightback to earn the win

The away side began the second half much as they ended the first as they looked to test England in behind.

Lorenzo Pellegrini drove down the left to nutmeg Callum Chambers in the England area, but the Middlesbrough defender got back well to dispossess the Italian and clear.

The away side then again went close when a deep cross from Federico Ricci on the left found captain Marco Benassi at the back post, and his thunderous effort was parried well by Gunn, whose defenders cleared the rebound.

The home side then tested the Italian goal twice in the space of a couple of minutes, Gray with the best effort as he skipped inside onto his right foot to bend his effort against the crossbar with Gollini no chance.

Chalobah then went very close as he shot centrally from distance, and his effort just whistled over the bar.

A good spell from the young Lions saw them go even closer when Hughes thought he’d drawn the sides level with a cute attempt, but for the post.

The good pressure eventually paid off for England though, when on 59 minutes Baker cut in brilliantly from the left, to play a one-two with Hughes, before driving the ball low past Gollini.

Both sides then rung the changes with both managers looking to offer their squad as much game time as possible, but it seemed the away side wanted to slow down the play, as they looked to contain and frustrate the young Lions for the remainder of match.

But England weren’t holding back as they pushed for the win. Substitute Tammy Abraham did well down the right to flick the ball to Duncan Watmore, who clashed with Hughes in the area as they both looked to put the ball past a helpless Gollini.

And just seconds from time, Jack Stephens at his home ground, found the winner as he poked the ball home from a Ward-Prowse corner to extend England’s wonderful run.