Pearce demands improvement from England

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The Independent Football

England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce has called for significant improvement if his youngsters are to build on yesterday's victory over Finland and eventually win the European Championships in Sweden.

Pearce's side scraped past Finland at Halmstad's Orjans Vall after playing for an hour with 10 men following the dismissal of Michael Mancienne for a professional foul.

Manchester City defender Micah Richards headed home the winner eight minutes after the break, but sterner tests are ahead as Spain and Germany are the other countries in Group B.

"We knew about Finland, the only surprise in the match was England playing like they did," said Pearce.

"The way we played was not good enough to win this tournament. The character we showed was commendable but we know as a group we have to play better than that."

Lee Cattermole opened the scoring against the run of play before Tim Sparv levelled from the penalty spot.

With Mancienne receiving a red card for his part in the equaliser, Pearce faced a dilemma of whether to attack or defend.

He decided to send on another striker but it meant Theo Walcott, the most high-profile player of the tournament, being replaced by Fraizer Campbell.

"You have to go with our gut feeling as a manger," Pearce said. "It's bittersweet at half-time because it's 1-1 and we're down to 10 men.

"If I put two strikers on and we lost people would have said 'What are you doing?'

"They are a good set of players and know if we want to pick up the trophy then everyone at times has to fall on their sword and support the other players. That is exactly what Theo does. That is the gentleman he is."

Pearce added: "I wanted to win the match. It was a bold call. It may have been easier going 4-4-1 but I thought we could trouble them with (Gabriel) Agbonlahor and Campbell but I needed a solid three behind them.

"For me to achieve the formation I wanted Theo had to come off the pitch."

Mark Noble was named man of the match by the sponsors but James Milner, filling in at full-back and centre-back at times after the sending off, could not have been far behind.

"The modern-day full-back gets up and down the pitch and Milly can do that," Pearce said.

Noble was skipper as Nedum Onuoha was injured, while Richards and Milner also worryingly picked up knocks.

Noble also feels improvement is needed.

The West Ham midfielder said: "We know we can play a lot better.

"We were surprised. We had a bit of misfortune with the sending off but as a group of players and a group of friends we dug it out.

"Hopefully we can go one step further than 2007 and take that trophy home back to England."

Finland coach Markku Kanerva added: "They were experienced players and often the difference is efficiency. They did not create many chances to score two goals.

"I don't think there was a big difference between the two teams. They played almost 60 minutes with 10 men, they have dangerous players.

"The first goal was sloppy but overall I was satisfied with the way my team played, I was proud of them."