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By ESPN Staff

Pearce: U21 players can handle racist bullies

England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce has backed his players to show maturity and restraint if they are targeted with racism during their Euro 2009 qualifier in Montenegro.

Rangers' Champions League qualifier against FK Zeta in Podgorica was marred by abuse aimed at black players from sections of the crowd.

And, although Pearce is not expecting the same when his youngsters play in the city, he believes his new squad will deal with any problems professionally as they did in the summer during the finals of the previous tournament when Nedum Onuoha and Justin Hoyte were subjected to sickening abuse against Serbia.

Serbian fans made monkey chants at Onuoha - who is in the squad for Friday's clash against Serbia's neighbours - while Hoyte was abused by players. Pearce feels the right response is to stay focused.

'If it occurs you deal with it in the right and proper manner, you don't let it affect your performance,' he said.

'That's giving into bullying.

'You get on with the job as best you can and keep your dignity about you. We did that in the summer.'

The Football Association were fined for a mass brawl in the Serbia match for England's part in a mass brawl when Matt Derbyshire scored while a player was down injured, yet Pearce's youngsters emerged with credit for the way they reacted to the racism.

'It's the only way to deal with it, to carry on doing your job and to win the game and let the authorities deal with any problems that come from it,' Pearce said.

'We did that, great credit to the FA and to the players especially.

'It brought the squad closer together, black and white players. We went on to the next game and we were a stronger unit for it. Adversity draws people together.'

He added: 'Some of these young boys might not have experienced racism, I don't know.

'What I do know is the maturity I see around the dressing room, the way the likes of Justin Hoyte and Nedum Onuoha before during and after any problems they received.'

The clash in Podgorica is the first qualifier on the road to Sweden in 2009, with the squad then travelling to Bulgaria for another match on Tuesday.

With six qualifiers before the end of November, Pearce is aware of the need to focus on making a good start rather than getting distracted by possible abuse from the stands.

'I will speak to the players in respect to conduct, if you get someone sent off it could cost you qualification,' said Pearce.

'We had problems in the tournament we came from in the summer but the players handled that extremely well, that will stand them in good stead once again. It doesn't matter what is going on around us, we'll focus on the job we're doing.

'The expectation levels are very high when you play for England, and your conduct has to be.'

He added: 'I go through my life and try to do things about what I can affect. At this stage I can't affect what might happen on terraces.

'What I can do is prepare my players for anything that might happen on the pitch and make sure our conduct is exemplary and we are not distracted by anything that might happen.'

Michael Johnson will not travel after he picked up a groin problem, while Michael Mancienne has also been ruled out.