Pearce plays keeper up front as U21s stroll

England U-21 7 Azerbaijan U-21 0
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England's last match before flying to Sweden on Thursday for the European Under-21 Championship turned into shooting practice and eventually equalled the biggest margin of victory since they began playing in this age group more than 30 years ago.

Yet so depleted was Stuart Pearce's squad that for the last 15 minutes Peterborough's goalkeeper Joe Lewis played in attack, a ploy the manager once used with David James at Manchester City.

Pearce insisted afterwards that he was not intending to humiliate the already demoralised opposition. "We had to do it because Lee Cattermole had a tightened calf," he said. "We'd used all the outfield subs and Joe put himself forward to come on up front."

Having been unable to select five experienced players for Sweden because of injury, then seen Manchester United's Danny Welbeck and Tottenham's Jamie O'Hara withdraw from the squad, England had to do without another half-dozen contenders last night.

Four were suffering from minor knocks, but are expected to be fit for the opening group match against Finland next Monday, while Theo Walcott and James Milner are still with Fabio Capello's seniors.

As a consequence, there were only four outfield substitutes and Fraizer Campbell was the only striker available. A five-man midfield was deployed behind him, which worked well as the visitors struggled to contain neat combinations and clever individual work.

Less than a minute had been played when West Ham's James Tomkins, making his debut at this level, headed against the inside of a post and Michael Mancienne drove in the opening goal.

Before half an hour had elapsed, England had scored twice more. In the 25th minute, Campbell touched a cross down for Mark Noble, whose shot hit a post and then bounced in off the unfortunate goalkeeper Elchin Sadigov. Five minutes later, Kieran Gibbs, impressive at left-back in the first half and as a midfielder in the second, sent a superb pass behind the defence for Craig Gardner to drive in the third goal.

The pattern of the game did not alter after half-time, as Campbell headed against the bar, having forced an agile save from the goalkeeper, who had at last regained some composure, but was soon beaten again. This time Andrew Taylor crossed from the left, Cattermole volleyed from close in and Nodar Mammadov diverted the ball into his own net.

Pearce then substituted Campbell, which left 18-year-old Spurs midfielder Danny Rose to play up front on his debut until Lewis' surprising appearance. He set up the fifth and sixth goals for Gibbs, before Jack Rodwell completed the biggest Under-21 win since Finland were beaten 8-1 in 1977.

England Under-21s(4-5-1): Hart (Manchester City) (Loach (Watford) 81); Cranie (Portsmouth), Tomkins (West Ham), Mancienne (Chelsea), Gibbs (Arsenal); Gardner (Aston Villa) (Rodwell (Everton) h-t), Noble (West Ham) (Rose (Tottenham) 54), Muamba (Bolton) (A Taylor (Middlesbrough) h-t), Cattermole (Wigan) (Lewis (Peterborough) 75), Johnson (Middlesbrough); Campbell (Manchester United) (Stearman (Wolves) 62).

Azerbaijan Under-21s (4-5-1): Sadigov; Medvedev, N Mammadov, Narimanov, Jafarguliyev (F Rahimov, 86); Aliyev, Pashayev (Novruzov, 68), E Mammadov, Rahimov, Abdullayev (Ismailov, 56); Soltanov (Imamverdiyev, 56).

Referee: R Schoergenhofer (Austria).

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