Under-21s Head Coach happy to be back in action as qualifiers resume in Azerbaijan
By Scott Field in Baku
England Under-21 Head Coach Stuart Pearce enjoyed taking his first training session in Azerbaijan on Tuesday, with a fully fit travelling squad all taking part in practice on the banks of the Caspian Sea.
With the squad arriving into Baku late on Monday night – after a six-hour flight – training commenced a little later than usual with the rain greeting the Young Lions as they strode out onto the synthetic surface of their training venue.
With Thursday evening’s game (kick-off 4pm BST) also being played on a synthetic pitch, Pearce wasted no time in conditioning his side to the new surface.
And Pearce insists the business gets serious in the next 24 hours, as his side focus on finishing the job and topping Group 8 to qualify for the October Play-Offs for the UEFA 2013 European Championship.
He said: “We’ve built so well last season and the object from the offset was to win the group.
"If we can do that, and gain a better draw going into the Play-Offs in October, that’ll be really important.
“Looking at the other groups, some of the power nations in Europe have got fantastic records. The French have won every game without conceding a goal, the Italians are strong, the Germans are 100 per cent [as are Spain], so all the other teams are shaping up quite well. So the more favours we can do ourselves, the better.
“Never mind the fact we haven’t been together as a group for a little while, and it would be nice to go into the October games with a good rhythm, as we did turning the clock back two years: when we had to win our last two game, it stood us in good stead. We need to try and achieve that if we can.
“So we want to win the group, win the next two games, and make sure Norway don’t come out of our group as a runner-up.
Pearce has now had the chance to assess, for the first time, the form of both newcomers Tom Ince and Ben Marshall. With Ince gathering rave reviews in the Championship, Pearce was equally enthusiastic about his recent progress at Blackpool.
The Head Coach added: “He’s got better this season, if I’m honest.
"I saw him a lot at the start of last season and I wasn’t sure he was good enough to force his way into the 21s.
"At the back end of the season, especially the Play-Off final, he was outstanding; I thought he was the best player on the pitch. I was at Leicester and he played extremely well then as well, on the same field as Ben Marshall – two new names in offensive positions as well.
“At this stage of Thomas’s career, he’s been at Blackpool a little while now, and it looks to me as if he’s enjoying his football. Olly’s (Ian Holloway) obviously a fantastic manager who lets his players express themselves and he’s flourished under that.
“He’s been at Liverpool before this, so it looks to me as if he’s enjoying his football, and that is a massive thing. It both enhances his international credentials, and I’ve seen fit to put him in the 21s, and he’s enhancing himself as a professional by regularly playing 90 minutes of football.
“They tell me there’s a player with his tail up, there’s a player enjoying his football and there’s a player who we hope is going to be very useful at Under-21 level. So I’m looking forward to working with him and Ben Marshall.”