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By ESPN Staff

England U21s book play-off place for Euros

England Under-21s kept alive their hopes of qualification for next summer's European Championships with a convincing victory over Lithuania at Colchester.

• Pearce heaps praise on Wilshere

England had to win to stand a chance of securing one of the four best placed runners-up spots to make the play-offs for Denmark.

After a tense first half, a brace from Sunderland forward Danny Welbeck and Aston Villa youngster Marc Albrighton secured the victory which, given results elsewhere, secured England's passage to the play-offs.

Pearce had named an unchanged side from the 1-0 win in Portugal, which meant Arsenal youngster Jack Wilshere had to again be content with a place on the bench.

It was a nervy opening from the Young Lions at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, and Blackburn defender Phil Jones had to make an important saving tackle as Arvydas Novikovas broke into the left side of the penalty area.

The first decent opening for England came on 11 minutes when Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge dragged his shot wide after good work down the left by Ryan Bertrand, on loan at Nottingham Forest from Stamford Bridge.

Slowly the home side started to get control of the midfield, with Lithuania picking up two quick bookings for late challenges.

Jones headed over a corner from Tom Cleverley, on loan at Wigan from Manchester United, before captain Michael Mancienne - another of the Chelsea youngsters, spending the season at Wolves - saw his long-range effort saved.

Tottenham winger Danny Rose drilled the ball just over as England continued to press for the breakthrough.

There was a let off for the home side on 35 minutes when a 25-yard free-kick from defender Mantas Fridrikas squirmed through the grasp of keeper Frank Fielding and hit the base of the post.

Welbeck dragged his 20-yard shot wide as England finished the half on top, but still unable to breakdown the stubborn Lithuania defence.

Wilshere was introduced at the start of the second half, replacing Kyle Walker and immediately England looked more assertive.

Rose had a shot blocked, while Sturridge curled his shot just wide.

The breakthrough finally came on 61 minutes when Welbeck stroked the ball into the far corner after being played through the left side of the penalty area by Wilshere's fine pass.

England knew their play-off hopes could come down to goal difference, and so continued to press.

Sturridge saw his neat finished ruled out by the offside flag as the game entered the final 20 minutes, before Welbeck looped his header onto the roof of the net.

The pace of Welbeck soon opened up Lithuania again and his angled shot was almost bundled into the net by a combination of keeper and defender, before, with 11 minutes left, Albrighton stabbed the ball home at the far post.

Welbeck wrapped up victory when he scored a second in stoppage time.

  • Pearce heaps praise on Wilshere

    Stuart Pearce praised Jack Wilshere's maturity after the Arsenal midfielder came off the bench to help fire the Young Lions into the European Championship play-offs with a 3-0 win over Lithuania Under-21s.

    ''Jack gave us a lift when he came on and had an impact on the game,'' said Pearce. ''For a young man, who in his own mind is expecting to be playing on Friday and then on the back of that was not in the starting line-up again, he has handled that extremely well.

    ''It was probably only Welbeck's performance in training which kept Jack out of the team, that coupled with the fact that Jack did get caught up with the headlines in the papers.

    ''He will readily admit that, and it was important that he put that to bed. In some ways there is no situation. He is a quite a level-headed kid. It is difficult for young men as they get thrust in the limelight and they are bombarded with information about who they should be, Eusebio or whoever. Any form of adversity they are left high and dry.

    ''Credit to him. The only thing that matters is his performance when he steps over that line.''

    England finished second in Group 9 and will join winners Greece in October's play-offs - along with Scotland - as one of the four best runners-up to battle for a place in Denmark next summer. Pearce intends to press for a strongest possible squad.

    ''I will speak to [England manager] Fabio [Capello], give him a piece of paper and say that this is the squad I want,'' said Pearce. ''In August, he said you are not having [Kieran] Gibbs and Jack. It will be the same this time - although I might get cheeky and ask for [Theo] Walcott.'

    ''When these boys met up 10 days ago, it was two must-win games otherwise we were finished. It is hard work to play under that sort of pressure We won the first game where it was slightly easier with a team coming at you. We knew what Lithuania would throw at us today, sit behind the ball and it was important we got an early goal which we didn't, that compounded the problem.

    ''The performance was not fantastic, we played a lot better in second half. I am pleased that we have an opportunity to get into play offs and stake claim for the tournament.''


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