England U21 2 - 0 N Ireland U21

Match info: Under-21 International at Bloomfield Road

Date: 13/11/2012 KO: 19:30 Ref: J Beaton Att: 8,040

Home team/scorers Scores Away team/scorers

England U21

Connor Wickham 45+1
Benik Afobe 77 (pen)


N Ireland U21

FT (ht: 1-0)

  • Last Updated: November 13 2012, 23:11 GMT

England Under-21s boss Stuart Pearce has been delighted to see Connor Wickham enjoying himself with the Young Lions during a frustrating period with his club Sunderland.

Wickham: Performance impressed Pearce
Wickham: Performance impressed Pearce

Wickham is in good form for Pearce's side, taking his tally to three goals in his last four appearances for the team with the opener in Tuesday evening's 2-0 friendly victory Northern Ireland at Bloomfield Road.

The 19-year-old striker looked a threat throughout the contest and had already hit the bar - and received stitches for a head injury - before he nodded home in the 45th minute.

At club level, though, he has barely had a chance to showcase his ability this term, only making his first Black Cats appearance of the campaign as an 89th-minute substitute in last weekend's 2-1 Barclays Premier League defeat at Everton.

Pearce has been happy to give Wickham - who had a considerable reputation when he joined Sunderland for around £8million from Ipswich in 2011 - an opportunity, and he feels it is something the player is relishing.

"He did well at Ipswich and obviously he got his move and then it has been a little bit start-stop for him at Sunderland," Pearce said.

"I always draw a comparison with Theo Walcott moving from Southampton to Arsenal.

"He is not playing regularly and we need to make sure we supplement his confidence and fitness, and that we get to see his ability on occasions at under-21 level.

"I think he showed that tonight and he looks as though he is enjoying himself out there.

"I see his demeanour around the place and he is enjoying meeting up with us."

Wickham has made just five Premier League starts in total for Sunderland, has only scored once for them and is reportedly set to go out on loan to an npower Championship side.

But Pearce hopes Black Cats manager Martin O'Neill might in the weeks to come be able to "reap the benefit" of the form the youngster has found with his country.

Assessing Wickham's display against Northern Ireland, Pearce said: "He has got presence. He held the ball up very well tonight and I think his energy levels were as high as we have seen at this level as well.

"He pressed and shut down from the front, which we expect our frontman to do.

"He can come away from the game tonight and back to his club, and hopefully the club will reap the benefit over the next few weeks and months building up to our next international."

Tuesday night's match was England Under-21s' first since their controversial Euro 2013 play-off victory in Serbia last month and Pearce took the opportunity to experiment ahead of next summer's finals in Israel, making eight changes to his starting line-up.

That included bringing two under-21 debutants in to the first XI, while a further five made their bows from the bench.

One of those substitutes, Benik Afobe, won and converted a penalty in the 77th minute to wrap up what was the England's sixth straight victory, and Pearce admitted things had gone even better than he might have hoped.

"In all honesty, it was beyond my expectations, having brought a group of players together with five or six who were fresh to the squad," Pearce said.

"I was very pleased with the way we played.

"The idea with this game is to help develop a pool of players who will be in competition with each other when I come to pick a squad for the summer.

"I think it served exactly the purpose we needed it to."

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