England Under-21s battled to a 2-1 victory in their European Championship opener against Finland despite playing for an hour with 10 men and seeing Theo Walcott replaced at half-time in Halmstad.

Micah Richards grabbed the winner for Stuart Pearce's side at Orjans Vall after they had Michael Mancienne sent off for a professional foul after Lee Cattermole had given them the lead.

Tim Sparv levelled from the penalty spot before seeing Walcott, his former Southampton team-mate, replaced at the interval and Richards' header after the break earned England a vital win as their other Group B opponents are Spain and Germany, who are expected to provide sterner tests.

It was totally against the run of play when England took the lead in the 15th minute with their first serious attack. James Milner's ball over the top looked simple enough to deal with but Gabriel Agbonlahor muscled his way past Jonas Portin and cut the ball back for Cattermole to sidefoot home off left-back Jukka Raitala.

It did not dampen the spirit of the Finns and they were level after Mancienne was sent off on the half-hour mark. Another ball over the top from Sparv caused problems and the Chelsea defender bundled over Berat Sadik, grappling him to the ground.

Either Mancienne or Joe Hart should have dealt with it but it resulted in Sparv sending the Manchester City goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot and sparked manic celebrations where every Finnish outfield player jumped the hoardings and celebrated with fans.

None of them were booked, but Agbonlahor was before the break when he used his arms to jump with Tuomo Turunen. After a quiet 45 minutes, Walcott was replaced by Fraizer Campbell at the break, with Agbonlahor heading out to the flank.

And England were ahead again eight minutes after the restart. Milner's free-kick had been tipped over the crossbar and it was the Aston Villa midfielder who swung over the corner.

Richards escaped Sparv's attentions and guided his header between the post and Kasper Hamalainen's attempted diving clearance.

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Topics:
Joe Hart
Gabriel Agbonlahor
Football
Manchester City
James Milner
Championship
Lee Cattermole
Southampton
Chelsea
Stuart Pearce
Micah Richards
Michael Mancienne
Aston Villa
Fraizer Campbell
Theo Walcott