Pearce calls on strong squad to prove credentials

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The Independent Football

England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce believes the squad for tonight's friendly international against Slovenia is one of the strongest he has ever had.

Several players who have featured in Fabio Capello's senior set-up, and can count themselves unlucky not to be in the Italian's squad for tomorrow's friendly against the Czech Republic, are available to Pearce. The Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor, who scored a hat-trick against Manchester City at the weekend, is set to be involved, alongside Premier League regulars David Wheater, Micah Richards and Tom Huddlestone.

Pearce has challenged the players to produce a performance at the KC Stadium in Hull that befits their ability – and give a further reminder to Capello of their talents.

"It's a very strong squad on paper and now we need to deliver a performance which indicates that strength," Pearce said. "Right across the board we have a strong squad and lots of players with experience of playing regularly in the Premier League with their clubs. You can go through the squad and there are not too many names that people might think, 'Where is he playing his club football?'"

Pearce is definitely without the Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor, who picked up an ankle injury in the 1-1 draw at Manchester United. However, he confirmed that United striker Fraizer Campbell, who spent a large part of last season at Hull City, is fit to play on the ground where he enjoyed plenty of success. Campbell was withdrawn by manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the second half at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Pearce also stressed that the likes of Agbonlahor and Richards need to be able to respond positively if they are asked to report for under-21 duty instead of the senior side.

"I think some of the players in the under-21 squad should be disappointed if they don't make the senior squad," he added. "But as soon as the squad is picked, and if you're in the under-21 side, you should be ready to roll your sleeves up and think, 'I must do well in this squad.'

"There are five or six boys who arguably could be in the senior squad but for them to sit on the bench against the Czech Republic for the senior squad is probably a bit counter-productive. They need to be playing football at their age and if they are eligible for the under-21 category they should be here. They'll get experience from being on the pitch, not in the stands."

Agbonlahor said for his part: "It is obviously disappointing not to be selected and you want to be playing for your country. But if Mr Capello doesn't put you in the squad then we have to go out, like on Sunday, and prove him wrong. That is all you can do, really. All we can do is play good football for our clubs. It is out of our hands whether or not we are selected.

"Mr Capello does come to Villa quite a lot and I am not going to give up. We have just got to keep doing the business for our club. Then if he doesn't want to pick us, he doesn't want to pick us."