England Under-21 3 Ireland Under-21 0: Walcott adds final flourish for Pearce

Theo Walcott all but booked England's place in the Under-21 European Championship play-offs when he made a popular goal-scoring return to Southampton last night. The Arsenal youngster delighted a near sell-out St Mary's crowd when he curled in a beauty to wrap up a comprehensive victory for Stuart Pearce's side who only need a point now in their final game against Portugal to go through to the knockout stages.

Walcott, who has struggled to make his mark in the Premier League, displayed the cool finishing of an experienced striker when he beat the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph on 78 minutes with a curling shot that any player would have been proud of.

It was a notable strike with which to mark his first return to the club that was forced to sell him to Arsenal two seasons ago to alleviate their own financial worries.

Walcott chose his words carefully afterwards when he said: "That goal was for the Southampton fans who were brilliant to me when I was here, but the most important thing was that we got the three points tonight and a clean sheet. I don't pay any attention to the criticism about me. The only people I listen to are my family and close friends – I don't listen to what other people say. I just get on with my football and try to play in every game."

Pearce praised Walcott for his performance as a lone striker and stated that he may have to be a little bit more patient to win his place in the Arsenal team. He said: "Theo will be judged by me and by his club by how he does over 90 minutes but he played in a difficult position up-front alone and scored a good goal, but let's not forget that he is the second youngest player in this age group. That price tag, and the World Cup, catapulted him into the limelight when he was a very young lad still learning his trade. He can learn the game under an excellent manager in Wenger at a fantastic football club."

Pearce insisted that new England national coach Fabio Capello had only asked his players to show the same "winning mentality" that he had demanded of the senior team when they line up against Switzerland in tonight's friendly at Wembley.

England struggled at times in the first half even though for much of it they dominated a Republic of Ireland side that worked the ball well but had no cutting edge.

James Milner is always prepared to shoot on sight and he forced a good save out of Randolph, and after Ireland then survived two penalty scares they were relieved to be still in the game at half-time. Andrew Keogh of Wolves should have given them the lead five minutes after the break, but delayed his shot long enough to enable Joe Hart to save – and that lucky escape seemed to spur England on.

Walcott had a volley cleared off the line by Darren O'Dea before England scored twice in eight minutes to finally make their superiority count.

Milner struck on the hour with a low drive that was diverted in off Stephen O'Halloran's leg but Pearce insisted with a wink: "I didn't see a deflection, it went straight in."

There was no doubting Milner's second goal when his 20-yard shot went in off a post before Walcott capped a night to remember back on the south coast.

England Under-21 (4-2-3-1): Hart (Manchester City); Mattock (Leicester), Wheater (Middlesbrough), Taylor (Newcastle), Gardner (Aston Villa); Muamba (Birmingham), Huddlestone (Tottenham); Milner (Newcastle), Noble (West Ham), Lennon (Tottenham); Walcott (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Jerome (Birmingham) for Huddlestone, 79; Johnson (Middlesbrough) for Walcott 86; Surman (Southampton) for Noble, 86.

Republic of Ireland Under-21 (4-5-1): Randolph (Charlton); Nolan (Blackburn), O'Cearuill (Barnet), O'Dea (Celtic), O'Halloran (Southampton); Stokes (Sunderland), Quinn (Sheffield United), O'Toole (Watford), Garvan (Ipswich), Clarke (Ipswich); A Keogh (Wolves). Substitutes used: Rooney (Chesterfield) for Clarke, 65; Morris (Scunthorpe) for Quinn, 84; O'Brien (Celtic) for Stokes, 87.

Referee: J Hyytia (Finland).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?