England Under-21 1-0 Serbia Under-21: Dawson penalty gives hosts advantage in Euro 2013 play-off

Craig Dawson's second-half penalty handed England a crucial advantage over Serbia after the first leg of their qualification playoff tie for the 2013 European Under-21 Championship.

Both countries topped their respective groups in the initial qualifying phase and face a battle over two matches for a place in Israel next summer, with the reverse fixture to be played in Krusevac on Tuesday.

England struggled to find their rhythm in the final third for long stages but when Adam Smith was brought down by Luka Milunovic, Dawson made no mistake from the spot.

Stuart Pearce showed his willingness to give talent from outside the Premier League a chance by fielding Wilfried Zaha and Tom Ince - as well as Liverpool's Raheem Sterling - in support of striker Marvin Sordell.

It was the Blackpool winger, operating through the middle on this occasion, who caused the Serbia defence the most problems in the early stages. England's nerves had settled after several fouls in the opening minutes and a couple of uncertain moments for goalkeeper Jack Butland went unpunished before Ince headed Danny Rose's cross just wide.

He might have been forgiven for not being the strongest header of the ball but when he was played through by Sterling moments later, Ince was let down by a poor touch that allowed goalkeeper Branimir Aleksic to save at his feet.

That, though, was about as good as it got for Pearce's team in the opening 45 minutes. Indeed, when Milunovic took up a more advanced midfield position Serbia were briefly revitalised and the Red Star Belgrade player headed a firmly-struck cross over the bar from close range.

That England lost Jack Rodwell to a hamstring injury at half-time was not a good sign for the 45 minutes ahead and the hosts laboured through the opening minutes as Serbia sat all but striker Djordje Despotovic behind the ball.

Zaha tested Aleksic after a promising run, however, and that glimmer of optimism seemed to renew England's vigour in attack. When Smith broke into the box, Milunovic stuck out a leg and the contact was enough for the Tottenham right-back to go over and win a penalty. Dawson dispatched the resulting spot-kick.

That lightened the mood at Carrow Road and might have been even more celebratory had Ince not been denied a clear shot on goal by Slobodan Medojevic's excellent sliding tackle.

Caulker then tested Aleksic when he headed Jordan Henderson's free-kick towards the top corner but the goalkeeper did well to turn the ball around the post as England searched for an important second goal.

Serbia made a late push of their own, however, and Dawson was on hand to make a timely block when the ball was cut-back to Despotovic inside the penalty area.

Butland remained untroubled, though, and England ensured that they placed themselves in the driver's seat as they prepare to head east next week.

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