Platt helps Pennant to put the past behind him

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The Independent Football

David Platt, the England Under-21 coach, insisted he had no qualms about handing Jermaine Pennant a second chance after the Arsenal youngster was sent home from an England gathering in April for breaking a curfew.

Pennant was named in Platt's starting line-up for Monday night's friendly win over Serbia and Montenegro at the KC Stadium in Hull and is also part of the squad for the European Championship qualifier against Slovakia next week, and restored his international reputation in a 3-2 win.

Platt said: "Jermaine knows that he did wrong in the last game and that he behaved in a way that wasn't professional.

"He accepted the punishment that was laid down so why turn round and say that's it? He's 20 years of age and he's got that kind of ability."

Pennant had been thrown out of the England camp preparing for April's qualifying match with Turkey after breaking a curfew imposed at the club's Durham hotel.

In June 2000 when the Under-21s were under the charge of Platt's predecessor, Howard Wilkinson, the Football Association banned Matt Jansen, Seth Johnson and Lee Hendrie from international football for three months for visiting a nightclub during a trip to Slovakia. But Platt says he never considered a similar punishment for Pennant.

Platt said: "If these things kept happening it would get to a point where his performances were affected and I wouldn't keep picking him because his performances would stop me from doing that.

"I've never had any problems whatsoever with Jermaine Pennant on a football pitch. He stepped out of line once and he was dealt with. He understood that he stepped out of line, he came out in the media and said that, and he phoned me and said: 'I'm sorry I let you down'. I told him he hadn't let me down, he had let himself down."

England's youngsters led three times against their south-east European opponents. The visitors looked to have snatched a draw with five minutes to go but the Ipswich forward Darren Bent grabbed a dramatic winner.

The result stands Platt's men in good stead for their must-win meeting with Slovakia in eight days' time. England need the points to keep in touch with the group pace-setters Turkey and Portugal.

Platt said: "It's been too long since we last won a game and it was nice to get back to winning ways.

"It was evident in the first half that the players needed this game to get back their match fitness and they deserve a lot of credit for coming out and playing like it was the middle of the season. The main plus I will take out of this game is the energy level and if we can do that in the game next Tuesday hopefully we will get the result."

Platt was also delighted with the performances of Nottingham Forest's Phil Jagielka and the Reading midfielder Steven Sidwell. The pair helped to fill the holes in Platt's squad caused by injuries and by the elevation of the likes of Gareth Barry to the senior squad.

Sidwell deservedly scooped the man of the match award and Platt said: "He showed he is intelligent enough for this level and he gave great balance to our midfield. We just had to quell his characteristics a little bit but it doesn't surprise me at all that he got the man of the match award."

Newcastle's Shola Ameobi put England ahead in the 15th minute when he pounced on a mistake by the visiting keeper and prodded the ball home. But the impressive Serbia and Montenegro side were level four minutes after the restart when Branimir Petrovic let fly into the top of the net from 25 yards.

Platt's third debutant, the Chelsea goalkeeper Rhys Evans, fell awkwardly after trying to save the shot and had to be taken off on a stretcher. But Platt said there was still a chance Evans could be fit for next week's Slovakia tie.

He said: "Rhys has been having the problem in training and we thought we had cured it. He has had some spasms in his lower back and he twisted the wrong way. But he was walking okay after the match and we haven't ruled him out for next week."

Jermain Defoe kept cool after being put clear by Pennant to put England back in front. But again the visitors equalised in style with Srdan Stanic knocking in an 85th-minute equaliser from long range.

Bent had replaced Pennant two minutes earlier and after a mere five minutes on the pitch he rose highest to connect with Carlton Cole's flick-on in the box and nod in the winner.

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