Stuart Pearce admitted last night that he "tried bloody hard" to persuade Fabio Capello to let him keep Jack Wilshere for the second leg of the Under-21s' European championships qualifier against Romania on Tuesday but the England manager has insisted on taking the Arsenal midfielder back to the senior squad.
Before last night's victory – earned in the last five minutes with a winner from Manchester United's Chris Smalling – there was a faint hope that Capello might change his mind and allow the 18-year-old to stay. Wilshere demonstrated last night why he is so valuable to Pearce with another inventive performance but he will not be on the flight to northern Romania tomorrow.
Capello was in the stands at Carrow Road last night and his insistence on taking the player into the senior squad for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro suggests that he might yet have plans for Wilshere to play some part at Wembley. Why else would he deny Pearce the player who, along with Sunderland's Jordan Henderson, was central to England's victory last night?
Pearce said that Capello told him before the game that he had decided Wilshere would be leaving the Under-21s. On Thursday Pearce had said that the England manager had hinted that the decision would be delayed until today. "Jack will be meeting up with the seniors and part of me is pleased that he is going," Pearce said.
"Part of me thinks I would have liked him in Romania but we feel we have quality in the squad and whoever plays will do themselves proud on Tuesday. I hope Jack gets a game against Montenegro. I tried my bloody hardest [to persuade Capello to let Wilshere stay].
"The one thing that really pleases me is that Jack would have been quite happy to get on the plane and come to Romania with us. And part of him feels he is being taken away form the Under-21s – in a nice way – but his attitude is fantastic. He is an outstanding player and he deserves to be with the seniors."
Until Smalling came up with the winner, that trip to the backwater of Botosani in northern Romania for the second leg of this tie was looking a lot more daunting for Pearce. With his Football Association bosses Capello and Sir Trevor Brooking in the stands to see at first hand England's next generation this was not the moment for them to falter.
The FA have invested far too much faith in Pearce and the nation's developmental squads for them to fail to reach the big tournaments. This Romania team, however, are no soft touch and the fact that England will be playing a long way off the beaten track come Tuesday will not make the second leg any simpler for them.
Having toiled through the first half, Henderson had given England the lead just after the hour. But when it looked like England might at last dominate, Romania nicked an equaliser when the Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand deflected a shot into his own net with 20 minutes left.
It was little more than Romania deserved. This is a strong England team which has Premier League experience right through it in the likes of Fabrice Muamba, Phil Jones, Welbeck and captain Michael Mancienne but they struggled in the first half. Romania's captain and playmaker Gabriel Torje struck goalkeeper Frankie Fielding's near post with a shot just before the break.
Pearce described it as "a great advert for Under-21s football" but at time his players looked much like their senior counterparts: plenty of possession in front of their opposition and too few telling balls through them.
The first goal came when Tom Cleverley's corner was punched clear by goalkeeper Silviu Lung. The ball came down in a steep trajectory but was hit first time by Henderson who struck a well-placed, if not very firmly-hit, volley just beyond Lung's reach. The equaliser was a cross from the winger Hora that deflected off Bertrand and beat Fielding at his near post.
The substitute Daniel Sturridge headed down Marc Albrighton's corner and, via a touch from Wilshere, the ball reached Smalling who scored the winner from close range. But this tie is far from over, especially without Wilshere in Romania.
England Under-21 (4-4-1-1): Fielding (Blackburn); Mancienne (Wolves on loan), Smalling (Manchester United), Jones (Blackburn), Bertand (Nottingham Forest on loan); Cleverley (Watford on loan), Henderson (Sunderland), Muamba (Bolton), Rose (Bristol City on loan); Wilshere (Arsenal); Welbeck (Sunderland on loan)
Substitutions: Albrighton (Aston Villa) for Cleverley, 75; Sturridge (Chelsea) for Welbeck 80; Cork (Burnley on loan) for Wilshere, 90.
Romania Under-21 (4-1-4-1): Lung (Craiova); Rapa (Ostelul Galati), Papp (Vaslui), Barboianu (Craiova), Gaman (Craiova); Gardos (Steau Bucharest); Torje (Dinamo Bucharest), Neagu (Ostelul Galati), Bicfalvi (Steau Bucharest), Hora (Cluj); Alexe (Steau Bucharest).
Substitutions: Sburlea (Rapid Bucharest) for Alexe, 81.
Referee: P Tagliavento (Italy).
Who's ready to make the step up?
The Arsenal midfielder, possibly the most gifted player of his generation, has already been in the senior squad, appearing as a substitute in the opening game of the season against Hungary, and has been summoned again, ensuring he won't be taken to Romania for the second leg of the Under-21 tie. It will be the junior squad's loss but that is how highly Fabio Capello regards him.
Withdrawn from last night's tie because of injury, Gibbs, like his Arsenal club-mate, has proved he can move up to a higher level. His problem, as with many of this squad, is finding regular football, which in this case means displacing Gaël Clichy at Arsenal and Ashley Cole in the senior side. Quick, clever and strong in the tackle, he can also play further forward in midfield.
The powerful Blackburn Rovers centre-half is a graduate from the Under-19 team who was only recently promoted but could go further. He has been described by manager Sam Allardyce as "a shining light", and, luckily for England, Allardyce has been prepared to put him into the first-team. He has deserved to keep his place at club level and is now a regular alongside the Manchester United defender Chris Smalling.
The little Aston Villa outside-right, not 21 until next month, has made a sudden impression this season after being given his head in the Premier League. Only used as a substitute last night, with Tom Cleverly of Manchester United (currently on loan at Wigan) ahead of him, he came on for the last 15 minutes as England picked themselves up to go on and win the game.
Another comparative newcomer for both club and country, Sunderland's Henderson looked for a long time the most likely England scorer and so it proved. He had already hit two fine shots at the Romanian goal before a beautiful strike for the first goal: setting himself perfectly to strike his volley from some 25 yards.