England closed in on a play-off place in qualifying for the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship after a 3-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton.
Stephen O'Halloran's own goal followed by a James Milner strike mid-way through the second-half put England in control before Theo Walcott rounded out the scoring with eleven minutes to play. The result puts England in a commanding position in Group 3, nine points clear of second-placed Portugal, who cannot drop another point if they are to advance at England's expense.
Milner was the catalyst of much of England's brightest play and came close to breaking the deadlock when his stinging shot was palmed away by Joe Lewis in the Republic of Ireland goal on 32 minutes. Ipswich Town FC's Owen Garvan showed flashes of excellence for the visiting side in difficult, wet conditions on the south coast and three minutes after the restart it was Ireland that should have struck first. Andy Keogh was sent clear of the England defence but shot straight at Joe Hart after bursting into the area.
England seized the initiative soon after, going ahead on 60 minutes when O'Halloran deflected Milner's low shot into his own goal. The Newcastle United FC midfielder added the second eight minutes later, drilling a low strike in off the post, before Walcott, on his return to his former club Southampton FC, completed the scoring with a curling effort after cutting into the area from the left. Should Portugal drop a point at home to Bulgaria next month, England's place in the play-offs will be confirmed. For the Republic of Ireland it was a fourth defeat in five Group 3 games.