Stuart Pearce confident England Under-21s to qualify ahead of Serbia despite Jack Rodwell absence

The manager believes his side will cope with the hostile away atmosphere and will not suffer from the absence of the City midfielder, also rejecting suggestions of racist abuse
Stuart Pearce remains confident of England Under-21s chances in the second leg of their playoff against Serbia to qualify for the European Under-21 Championships despite the absence of Jack Rodwell through injury.

The Young Lions travel to Serbia looking to defend a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, won after Craig Dawson converted a penalty following a foul on Tottenham’s Adam Smith.

Rodwell was taken off at half-time for Jason Lowe after suffering a tight hamstring and has returned to his club following an assessment, while Liverpool defender Jack Robinson and Norwich goalkeeper Declan Rudd are also out.

Pearce however believed his squad will survive without him and commented: "We're disappointed for Jack, naturally, but I know what I've got in this squad and I know they're good enough to see the job through.

"We've had a lot of injuries to contend with throughout this qualification campaign so it's not a challenge we're unfamiliar with. I know my players and I'm no less confident in our chances."

He added: "Every time we have had an injury it has provided an opportunity for someone new to come in, and those players have always responded to that.

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"When we look back on this qualification campaign we'll know it's been a massive squad effort, that everyone has played a part in.

"We know it's going to be a really tough tie, but it's one we've prepared for and will relish."

Having kept a clean sheet and prevented their opponents from recording an away goal in Friday’s home victory, the team are in a strong position, but could face a challenging atmosphere going into the away second leg.

Pearce believes the team will cope, and added: "We have got some experienced heads in the dressing room. I think they are mature enough to deal with the atmosphere they will face.

"Admittedly, they are only young but every time we have taken them into Europe, we think they have had a decent grounding at their club.

"This tie is far from finished and they'll make it very unpleasant for us but we will set the team up to win."

England’s last meeting with Serbia at the 2007 European under-21 Championships was marred by racist abuse directed towards Nedum Onuoha, but Pearce did not expect the problem to repeat itself.

He commented: "That was some years ago and we have no fears in that respect. I believe that everything has moved on since then.

"My only concern is the match and making sure our players are prepared for the game and any eventuality that may occur during it.

"Anything else over and above that will be dealt with by the authorities and the referee, as it normally is on the night."