Gardner selection poser for Pearce

September 8, 2007

England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce admits Craig Gardner has given him a selection dilemma for next week after watching the Aston Villa youngster in his preferred midfield role.

Gardner has been used as an emergency right-back for his club this season but got his chance in the middle of the park in the 3-0 win for the Under-21s in Montenegro.

Tottenham midfielder Tom Huddlestone was suspended for the clash at the Pod Goricom Stadium and is available for the next Euro 2009 qualifier, in Bulgaria on Tuesday.

Andrew Surman is also challenging for a place after making a goalscoring debut, while Fabrice Muamba came on in Podgorica and anchored, but it is Gardner who currently has the shirt.

'His natural position is a midfield player and he gives me options,' said Pearce.

'We looked at him in the friendly against Romania and we felt that his strength was his passing, without a doubt.

'He's got a great eye for a pass and keeps possession well and like many in the squad it's about getting minutes on the pitch.'

Pearce feels Gardner gives an example of how his side can change shape depending on whether they are chasing a game or - in the case of Friday night when they went two goals ahead within 10 minutes - protecting a lead.

'The beauty of this squad is how adaptable it is,' Pearce added. 'Theo Walcott can play anywhere across the front four, if Craig can play in the midfield or at right-back then it's helpful to me.

'I thought he had a decent game against Montenegro, and I think he'll only improve with the more games he plays.'

Nedum Onuoha opened the scoring against Montenegro before Gabriel Agbonlahor doubled the lead, with Surman adding the third in stoppage time.

Goalkeeper Joe Hart had objects thrown at him in the second half, including loose pieces of the stadium, but Pearce did not want the incident to overshadow victory.

Despite that unsavoury episode, the evening was treated as a celebration as it was the first competitive match Montenegro had hosted since independence from Serbia.

'It was a historical occasion and we were proud to be part of it,' Pearce said. 'They turn out good footballers from this area of the world, it's a good footballing area and it's not so long ago that a team from this area won the European Cup.'

There was no repeat of the racism that scarred the clash against Serbia in the summer and even England's national anthem was treated with respect.

It was still a passionate crowd and Pearce feels his youngsters are gaining valuable experience as they look to go one better than their semi-final place in Holland in the summer.

He added: 'The more they play together the better they will get. The more players get international experience the better it will be for us.'

They continue in Sofia next week before playing another four qualifiers before the end of November.