James Tomkins helped England Under-19s keep a clean sheet in a high-profile Under-19 friendly against Croatia on Tuesday night while Freddie Sears came close to a goal off the bench.
The centre-back, on the verge of his first-team breakthough, was not content with playing a key rearguard role as he also set up the clinching second goal for Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark in the second half. Scott Sinclair of Chelsea had opened the scoring early in the first half. Croatia, as was expected, proved difficult opposition but the home side were able to hang on for victory. "I thought our two centre halves Ciaran Clark and James Tomkins were outstanding, really first class," manager Brian Eastick told theFA.com.
Tomkins is a mainstay for England at this level, having already helped them to qualify for the next stage on the road to this summer's European U19 Championship. Club-mates Sears and unused replacement Junior Stanislas are also pushing for inclusion when England take on Poland, Serbia and Belarus on 26, 28 and 31 May for a place in July's finals in Ukraine - while Jordan Spence, still only 17, has also been capped at this level.
In difficult conditions at Swindon's County Ground, England took the lead in the 22nd minute when Chelsea attacker Sinclair stepped up to score from the spot having won the penalty himself. Tomkins then had a scare when his misplaced pass allowed Croatia a shooting opportunity through Sandi Krizman but his shot smacked against the post.
Tomkins more than made amends in the 74th minute as he headed Sinclair's free-kick into the path of Clark, who made no mistake. Substitute Sears, earning his second cap after his debut last September, could have had a goal in the closing stages as he raced clear of his markers but was unable to keep his shot on target. In a lively run-out, Sears had a further opportunity to score but he could not find the goal his play deserved.