Pearce backs Agbonlahor to step up

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The England Under-21 manager, Stuart Pearce, believes Gabriel Agbonlahor could be the next of his youngsters to step up to the senior squad – just months after the international future of the Aston Villa striker looked uncertain.

Agbonlahor, 20, missed the European Under-21 Championship this summer when he could not be contacted to confirm his call-up but is back in the squad this season. He opened his Under-21 account in Podgorica last month and is expected to lead the attack when Montenegro make the return trip to the Walkers Stadium tonight.

The Under-21 graduate Ashley Young has been in the seniors recently and current captain Steven Taylor has also been given a taste, with Agbonlahor the obvious candidate if Steve McClaren looked to promote another. "He's started the season on fire with us and his club," Pearce said. "He has to maintain that and I feel he has the capacity to improve. They [the seniors] have got a couple of tight qualifiers. The next international game is only four weeks away then we go into a long break until February. There might be a situation where players step up and step back down again. It happens with other countries and there is no reason why it can't happen here. Steven Taylor did it a couple of months ago."

Pearce feels players at all levels benefit from representing their country. "As a player, when England went to Saudi Arabia I was playing badly for Nottingham Forest, we were beaten on the Saturday. For a second it crossed my mind to pull out and have a weekend at home with the wife. It was the best decision I ever made not to do that."