Pearce praises England Under-21s after victory leaves Euros play-off spot in sight

After their 2-0 victory in Baku almost secured qualification to the next round, the head coach has given his side credit after performing on an unfamilar playing surface

Manager Stuart Pearce has praised his England Under-21s side after their 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan Under-21s, and hopes they have done enough to reach the European Under-21 Championship play-offs.

A goal in each half from Steven Caulker and Jonjo Shelvey to keep the youngsters two points clear at the top of their qualification group – meaning a point against second-placed Norway will guarantee a spot in the play-off round.

Pearce told reporters: "We are pleased to have won the match and hopefully that puts us in a situation that sees us in the play-offs.

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"We gave our best. We've played better, but this was my strongest team available.

"Whenever you play international football, there is an expectation on your team and we knew Norway were putting pressure on us to win the group with their game tonight, in Belgium."

England had enjoyed a 6-0 demolition of the same opponents on home turf last year, but struggled on the artificial pitch in Baku, and Pearce gave the home side a great deal of credit for their performance on an unfamiliar playing surface.

He added: "I think it was the game we expected it to be, a very tight game.

"Azerbaijan are an improving nation. The first two group games were difficult for them, coming to England and Belgium.

"Since then, their results have been very, very good."

A number of players were making their debuts for England at this level, and Pearce noted that it was a challenging environment for the youngsters to make their first appearances.

He said: "We've not had our players together for a long time and we had a number of debuts tonight.

"International football can be very nervous until you get three or four goals, and tonight that wasn't the case for us."