England took a big step towards a place in next summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a 3-2 win against Wales in an entertaining encounter between the British rivals at Ninian Park, Cardiff.
Simon Church scored twice for Brian Flynn's side who were looking to cause another upset after surprisingly topping Group 10, but after the teams went into the break level at 2-2, Gabriel Agbonlahor's 61st-minute strike put England in the driving seat ahead of Tuesday's second leg at Villa Park.
Wales enjoyed much of the early possession without finding a clear route to goal before taking the lead in fortuitous fashion in the 13th minute. Michael Mancienne's clearance ricocheted off Steven Taylor and straight to Church in the area and he had time to look up and pick his spot low to Joe Hart's left in the England goal. With their tails up, Wales pressed again and Arsenal FC starlet Aaron Ramsey shot over moments later.
England hit back
England, though, were not behind for long. Agbonlahor's 18th-minute effort was deflected behind and from the resulting corner David Wheater climbed highest to head in. Ten minutes later England almost had another when Agbonlahor's long-range attempt hit the crossbar, but Stuart Pearce's side did not have long to wait before getting in front thanks to a fine solo effort from Adam Johnson. The Middlesbrough FC winger cut inside from the left and after beating a challenge from Neal Eardley curled a shot beyond Owain Fon Williams and low into the far corner.
In an exciting match, Wales soon restored parity – with the reward their enterprising first-half showing merited coming when Church struck his second a minute before the interval. Ramsey was the provider, slipping the ball through to the Reading FC striker, whose first touch took him beyond Taylor whose slip gave him the space he needed to fire low past Hart.
Again, though, Welsh joy was short-lived. Sixteen minutes into the second half Mark Noble crossed low from the right and Agbonlahor touched the ball in from close range with a back-heel to put England back in the ascendant. Williams held James Milner's low shot on 79 minutes, then dived high to his left to tip away Noble's crashing drive as England looked to exploit space in the closing stages, but by then the damage had been done.