Connor Wickham's scoring touch has England Under-21s in cruise control

England Under-21 2 Northern Ireland Under-21 0

Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21s manager, was delighted to see Connor Wickham enjoying himself with his side last night during a frustrating period with Sunderland.

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 a comfortable win over Northern Ireland in Blackpool. The 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, Wickham has barely had a chance to showcase his ability this season. "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.," Pearce said. "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 led the line from the start after his match-winning substitute appearance in the Under-21s' Euro 2013 play-off victory in Serbia last month and he was soon making a nuisance of himself, meeting Jack Robinson's cut-back with a strike that came back off the bar.

The 19-year-old made the breakthrough just before half-time as he rose to crash home a header from Jordan Henderson's delivery.

The one-way traffic continued after the break, with Manchester United's Nick Powell firing too high, Conor Devlin in the Northern Ireland goal saving a Robinson shot with his legs and Blackpool winger Tom Ince, playing at his club's ground, scooping the ball over from a good position.

Pearce made a raft of substitutions, with Harry Maguire, Derby's Will Hughes – the 17-year-old midfielder becoming the second youngest English player to appear at this level – and Afobe among those coming on to make their Under-21 debuts.

After Ince and Tom Lees had shots blocked, Afobe was brought down by the out-rushing Devlin in the area and the striker, who plays for Bolton on loan from Arsenal, stepped up to convert the penalty.

England Under-21 Amos (Steele, 46); Smith (Clyne, 60), Wisdom (Maguire, 60), Lees, Robinson (Moore, 84), McEachran (Hughes, 66), Ince (Waghorn, 77), Henderson (Chalobah, 77), Townsend (Afobe 60), Powell, Wickham.

Northern Ireland Under-21 Devlin (Glendinning, 78), Hodson (C McLaughlin, 46),Flanagan (McEleney, 46); Thompson (Hegarty, 82), McKeown (Donnelly, 85), Clucas (Morgan, 67), Lund (McAlinden, 78), P McLaughlin, Winchester (Gorman, 61), Magennis (Boyce, 90), Carson.

Referee J Beaton (Scotland).