Young Lions keep winning streak going

Connor Wickham wheels away after breaking the deadlock for England Under-21s at Blackpool

Connor Wickham wheels away after breaking the deadlock for England Under-21s at Blackpool

First published in National Sport © by

England Under-21s extended their winning streak to six games with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland at Bloomfield Road.

Stuart Pearce's Young Lions, playing for the first time since last month's controversial 1-0 win in Serbia and with a much-changed side, took a deserved lead just before the interval when Connor Wickham headed home Jordan Henderson's free-kick.

Wickham had already gone close on a few occasions, hitting the bar with one shot, and England continued to boss things after the break, with their dominance being rewarded in the 77th minute when substitute Benik Afobe earned and converted a penalty.

Pearce will have been pleased to get back to playing football after the trouble that flared at the Euro 2013 play-off second leg between his team and Serbia in Krusevac on October 16 and the fall-out that followed, when clashes broke out between players and staff of both teams.

Wickham led the line from the start after his match-winning substitute appearance in that contest, and the striker was soon making a nuisance of himself. He brought a save out of visiting goalkeeper Conor Devlin, and after Andros Townsend had an effort tipped behind, Wickham saw his header from the resulting corner deflect over.

Three minutes later the Sunderland frontman came even closer to scoring, meeting Robinson's cut-back with a strike that came back off the bar.

Devlin got himself in the way when Wickham tried to hook the ball in from close range just after the half hour mark and when he went to nod in the corner which followed, he sustained an injury that saw him come off for treatment. The knock - a head injury for which he received four stitches - was certainly not about to stop the 19-year-old, though.

Following a brief scare at the other end where Josh Magennis failed to finish a loose ball in the England box, the former Ipswich striker made the breakthrough as he rose to crash home a header from Henderson's delivery.

The one-way traffic continued after the break, with Nick Powell firing too high, Devlin saving a Jack Robinson shot with his legs and Tom Ince scooping the ball over from a good position.

Pearce made a raft of substitutions, with Harry Maguire, Will Hughes and Afobe among those coming on to make their under-21 bows. And after Ince and Tom Lees had had shots blocked, Afobe was brought down by the out-rushing Devlin in the area and the striker, who plays for Bolton on loan from Arsenal, stepped up to convert the penalty.

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