Sunderland duo shine for England’s U21s
While Sunderland look to be going down this season, Jake Clarke-Salter and Ovie Ejaria’s performances offer a glimmer of hope.
Jake Clarke-Salter and Ovie Ejaria both produced outstanding displays in England’s U21s 2-1 win against Romania at Molineux Stadium.
The Sunderland duo, both making their first international appearances at under 21 level, did their future selection chances no harm.
Clarke-Salter, a gangly central-defender on loan from Chelsea, scored the winner for the Young Lions, earning BT Sport’s Man of the Match award in the process.
The physicality of the Championship and the pressures of playing for a poorly run club fighting a relegation battle has proved difficult for the young starlets who, it must be said, have been thrown in at the deep end.
However, England U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd deployed the pair alongside operators with more technical ability, class and confidence – a stark contrast to their colleagues on Wearside.
Ovie the moon
The Man of the Match award could have just as easily gone to the Liverpool loanee Ejaria – who, time and time again, successfully linked midfield to attack.
The London-born player oozing the sort of composure and creativity Sunderland fans have seen little of up at the Stadium of Light in recent times.
It was Ejaria that drove England forward, often proving to be their most dangerous player in a dominant start for the home side, leading to Demarai Gray’s early opener eight minutes in.
All told, Ejaria ended the game with a passing accuracy of 96.6% but it was the quality of passing and the youngster’s intelligence and awareness which impressed most.
A goal-saving intervention
Ejaria’s Sunderland partner, Jake Clarke-Salter, kept England a goal to the good at halftime with a superb piece of last-ditch defending.
Romanian forward Andrei Ivan had goalkeeper Dean Henderson beaten only to be denied at full stretch by Clarke-Salter, the defender managing the faintest of touches onto the ball to divert it onto the far post: a goal-saving intervention.
Clarke-Salter then took the captain’s armband in the second half and duly headed his side into a 2-0 lead – a prefect U21 debut.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s in-swinging corner was met by a powerful Clarke-Salter header which crashed off the inside of the near post, leaving Ionut Radu statue-esque in the Romania net.
The visitors did manage to pull a goal back with ten minutes remaining, ensuring a nervous finish – however, England held on to secure the win.
Chris Coleman must ensure the pair replicate their England youth team form in Sunderland colours if the North-East side are to avoid dropping into the third tier of English football for only the second time in the club’s history.
The pair have proven they can perform given the right environment and correct professional setup. Now Sunderland must do their bit and provide a solid platform for both Clarke Salter and Ejaria to shine.
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