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Despite frustrating draws in their first two games, England still have a platform for success at this UEFA European Under-21 Championship. That is the view of one of the two new Manchester United FC team-mates who have given Stuart Pearce's Young Lions a solid base from which to reach the semi-finals in Denmark.
Although England's Group B efforts have been undermined by a return of one goal so far, at the other end of the pitch they have been anything but feeble. Phil Jones, whose €18.7m transfer to Manchester United FC was confirmed on Monday, has formed a powerful central defensive pairing with his new Old Trafford colleague Chris Smalling.
They have been breached only once – against Spain last Sunday – and according to Jones, this England side need just a lucky break in attack to make real progress at the finals. Speaking in the wake of Wednesday's stalemate with Ukraine, the former Blackburn Rovers FC centre-back told UEFA.com: "We shouldn't have conceded any – even Spain's goal was a sloppy one – so we're happy; we know what we're good at. If we could just get that goal ourselves, get a few goals in the next games, it would push us on in the tournament."
The 19-year-old, who has 35 Premier League appearances to his name, believes England were unfortunate not to find the breakthrough in the second half against Ukraine. "We didn't produce what we know we're capable of in the first half," Jones said. "But we responded well in the second and were unlucky not to get the goal. If we move the ball a bit quicker, and I know we can, I'm sure the goals will come."
The 21-year-old Smalling, who landed at United in a big-money move from Fulham FC last summer, also demanded a higher tempo. "We were sloppy as we didn't move the ball quick enough to begin with," he said. "It wasn't a quick enough tempo and, at the end of the day, it wasn't good enough. In the second half we were a lot better, just like against Spain, but we needed to come out of the trap a lot quicker. We've been training a week and it's quite disappointing."
Pearce's men, third in the group behind leaders Spain and the Czech Republic, will at least be able to rely on the niggardly duo of Jones and Smalling when the Czechs provide the opposition in Viborg on Sunday. "Chris Smalling's a great player," Lancastrian Jones said. "I enjoy playing with him. He reads what I do, I read what he does and we work well together."
Yet with England having to win to qualify, they will require more than just another colossal defensive showing – as Jones understands. "The Czechs are another good team," he said. "We knew coming into the tournament we were in a tough group. We will prepare in training and we will be ready."
For Smalling, England's destiny remains theirs to decide: "We need to work on creating a few more chances and attacking better. Now it's still in our hands come Sunday and we just want the three points."
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