England U21 1 Montenegro U21: England top after strike by Derbyshire

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The Independent Football

England Under-21s moved to the top of their Euro 2009 qualifying group following victory over Montenegro courtesy of Matt Derbyshire's winner at the Walkers Stadium.

Stuart Pearce's youngsters extended their 100 per cent record in Group 3, taking advantage of Portugal's defeat in Bulgaria earlier in the evening.

With Republic of Ireland on Tuesday and another two matches next month, England have put themselves in the driving seat to earn a play-off for the finals in Sweden at the end of next season.

Derbyshire netted in the first half, his sixth of the season for club and country, and the lead could have been extended but for the woodwork and some poor finishing.

Aside from being defeated on penalties by Holland in the summer, the under-21s have not been beaten outright in a match for nearly two years, when a France team inspired by Franck Ribery got the better of them in a play-off.

Defeat in Leicester did not look a likely prospect from the early stages when Tom Huddlestone was able to dictate the pace of the game.

The Tottenham midfielder sliced through the Montenegro defence in the seventh minute but Theo Walcott could not tame the pass. His corner was then met at the far post by Steven Taylor, with the skipper's effort coming off the upright.

Gabriel Agbonlahor and Derbyshire offered lively threats in attack, with both coming close before the deadlock was broken.

The opener came in the 20th minute when James Milner slipped the ball through and Ivan Fatic made a mess of an attempted clearance, leaving Derbyshire to run through and clip past the goalkeeper.

Andrew Surman, making his first start, appeared to pick up a calf problem and was replaced by Fabrice Muamba, but it did little to break England's rhythm.

Walcott was the next to go close when his shot from the edge of the area deflected wide after a corner broke to him.

Agbonlahor also had an effort deflected to safety when the ball ricocheted in his direction, and the Aston Villa forward also dwelt on the ball when he was through on goal.

There was more England pressure in the second half. Walcott went on an exciting run, carrying the ball from deep in his own territory but getting stopped while sending through his final pass.

The hosts then had a penalty appeal turned down in the 50th minute when Aleksandar Radovic appeared to handle in the area while tussling with Milner.

Milner saw his drive from the edge of the area tipped over by Ivan Janjusevic, while Montenegro threatened when Marko Cetkovic got a header on target, but goalkeeper Joe Hart was not stretched.

Nedum Onuoha met a Huddlestone corner powerfully but his header crashed off the underside of the crossbar and went to safety. Huddlestone drilled the follow-up just wide.

Derbyshire was taken off with 12 minutes remaining, and Cameron Jerome was brought on. Agbonlahor should have grabbed a second but fired over when sent through.

Pearce will assess the injury to Surman, but he has Mark Noble returning for the clash in Cork next week.