England under-21s: Agbonlahor's goalscoring prowess leaves Pearce purring

Villa forward's knack of striking at right time maintains perfect start
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The Independent Online

England's Under-21 manager, Stuart Pearce, hailed the finishing skills of Gabriel Agbonlahor after the Aston Villa forward guided Pearce's side to a 2-0 win over Bulgaria in Milton Keynes on Friday night.

Agbonlahor's 40th-minute header was added to by James Milner's 82nd-minute penalty to ensure that Pearce's side continued their perfect start totheir European Championship 2009 qualifying campaign.

The visitors had the better of the first half before Agbonlahor's timely strike, and Pearce admitted the Villa striker's ability to steal a goal is proving decisive for club and country.

Pearce said: "Gabby was a little bit quiet for us in the first half but in the second half he played much better. He's got that knack of scoring a goal. He's doing it for Villa now on a consistent basis in the Premier League, has proved that he's a handful and showed that again tonight.

"With players like him around, you have the potential to get your nose in front when you least deserve it, and that is a great skill to have in your team."

The 21-year-old, who scored the winner for Villa in last weekend's Premier League derby with arch-rivals Birmingham, ended the game on a low note after he was forced off injured. He picked up the injury in a challenge on Bulgaria defender Ivan Ivanov, and Pearce said he is a doubt for Tuesday's clash with Portugal.

Pearce said: "Gabby just wronged his knee and we'll have to check on that. The medical staff here are absolutely top-notch and he'll get the best treatment, but it's too early for me to say how he is. I spoke to him just now and he said it's settled down, so we hope he'll be OK for both club and country."

Pearce was forced to change his side at half-time, bringing on the Birmingham midfielder Fabrice Muamba for striker Matt Derbyshire in a successful ploy to stop Bulgaria's dangerous attacks. And Pearce believes his youngsters' ability to take his criticism and guidance stands them in good stead to continue their success.

He said: "I'm proud of the team's achievements. They're a great collective; there is a great team spirit about them and some fantastic characters in the dressing room. At half-time, you can say a few choice words and know that they will take it on board. They set those standards and knew at half-time that it wasn't good enough."

Pearce has also called for the National Football Centre to be built and insisted that it is "never too late" for the project to help English football.

The Football Association are due to decide next month whether to go ahead with the £50 million project in Burton-upon-Trent, which has been on hold for 12 months.

Pearce is adamant that the project has to go ahead. "It's common sense," he said. "At Manchester City you wouldn't have your physio department in Birmingham and your video analysis department in Liverpool. You have it all under one roof and on the same site.

"To have a base where you can run all of your coaching courses,all your various age groups meeting to train, physio units, video analysis – all of this on a site which has 11 pitches and a five-star hotel – is ideal to me.

"There is no national football centre in Burton yet but the infrastructure is ready to go. To scrap it now and not go ahead with it is incredible. For me to take my squad there on a regular basis and then go and watch the Under-19s training afterwards would be brilliant. Every club has these facilities. For the England national side not to is absolutely mind-boggling.

"The sooner it's up and running and is better than anything in this country and is the envy of the world, like Wembley, the better. I cannot see any negative in respect to it. It's never too late to do this. There are kids who aren't even born yet who will benefit from such a centre."

Pearce insists that key figures in English football are behind the troubled project, including the England manager, SteveMcClaren. He said: "Everyone in football is of the opinion that this needs to happen. It's a no-brainer. This is not Stuart Pearce riding through Soho Square on a charging white horse, it's everybody from Sir Trevor Brooking to Steve McClaren.

"The benefits are vast and I'm yet to see anyone come up with a reason for it not to be built, so hopefully it can happen soon."

Pearce has also called for a change in the loan system to help Premier League managers send young English talent out to play in the Coca-Cola Championship.

Pearce handed Manchester City striker Ishmael Miller a late call-up to his squad for the Bulgaria game after a run of nine goals on loan at West Bromwich Albion, but believes the current system makes it a risk for managers to send youngsters on the fringe of their first team on loan.

He said: "Six months ago I was a Premier League manager at Manchester City and I was sat there with Ishmael Miller and Daniel Sturridge – young players who had knocked on the door of my first-team squad but who had not done enough to knock that door down.

"Because of injuries and one thing and another you worried about sending them out on loan because it took a month to get them back. If we could change that situation so you could have a recall after two matches or so that would have changed my thinking during the course of my management, and it would surely be the same with other managers.

"I've mentioned it to the powers that be as it's part of my job to speak to managers and pass that feedback on. I've brought it to the table and it's up to the powers that be to decide whether it can be tinkered with or not."

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