Pearce's play-off hopes
Friday, 07 September, 2012
England Under-21s Coach happy to get through a tough trip to Azerbaijan with three points.
by Jamie Bradbury
Stuart Pearce hopes that Thursday night’s victory in Azerbaijan will be enough to put England Under-21s into the Euro 2013 play-offs.
A first half goal from Tottenham’s Steven Caulker gave the Three Lions the lead in a tough game in Baku, played on an artificial pitch.
It wasn’t until eight minutes from time when Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey added a second to ease Pearce’s nerves.
England are now top of Group 8 by two points with one game to play, and that comes against second-place Norway in Chesterfield on Monday. With 18-points on the board, it should be enough to at least guarantee one of the four best runners-up slots, but a draw will confirm his team’s berth in the play-offs.
"We are pleased to have won the match and hopefully that puts us in a situation that sees us in the play-offs,” said Pearce, whose team arrived back at St. George’s Park early on Friday morning to prepare to the group decider.
"We gave our best. We've played better, but this was my strongest team available. I think it was the game we expected it to be, a very tight game.”
Having not played together for six months, since their win over Belgium in Middlesbrough, the trip to Azerbaijan could well have been a banana skin for Pearce’s side, despite their 6-0 victory over the Azeri a year ago.
The result stretched England’s lead to five points, until Norway won in Belgium later in the evening. And it maintained a glimmer of light for Monday’s visitors that they could still claim top spot and the automatic place in next Friday’s play-off draw.
"Azerbaijan are an improving nation. The first two group games were difficult for them, coming to England and Belgium. Since then their results have been very, very good,” added Pearce.
"Whenever you play international football there is an expectation on your team and we knew Norway are putting pressure on us to win the group with their game in Belgium last night.
"We've not had our players together for a long time and we had a couple of debuts tonight. International football can be very nervous until you get three or four goals, and tonight wasn't the case for us."
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