sport

Pearce proud of perfect record

England U-21s boss Stuart Pearce paid tribute to his players after they ensured a 100% record in 2012 by beating Northern Ireland 2-0.

The win at Bloomfield Road on Tuesday night was the Young Lions' sixth out of their six games this calendar year, a sequence in which they have not conceded a single goal.

For what was their first fixture since the controversial Euro 2013 play-off victory in Serbia last month, Pearce took the opportunity to experiment ahead of next summer's finals in Israel, making eight changes to his starting line-up.

That included bringing two debutants in to the first XI, while a further five made their bows from the bench, and following Connor Wickham's 45th-minute header, one of those substitutes, Benik Afobe, won and converted a penalty in the 77th minute to wrap up a comfortable triumph.

Reflecting on his team's efforts, Pearce said: "I think across the board - keeping another clean sheet, winning another game, winning every game this year - the players must take a lot of credit.

"In all honesty, it (the performance in the Northern Ireland game) was beyond my expectations, having brought a group of players together (for it) with five or six who were fresh to the squad.

"I was very pleased with the way we played. The idea with this game was to help develop a pool of players who will be in competition with each other when I come to pick a squad for the summer.

"I think it served exactly the purpose we needed it to."