Stuart Pearce - It's a great achievement
England Under-21s manager Stuart Pearce is confident his side are ready to challenge for this year's European Championship finals after they cruised to a 4-0 victory over Sweden in a friendly on Tuesday night.
Blackpool striker Tom Ince was in startling form, grabbing two goals and an assist in the rout, with Jonjo Shelvey and Connor Wickham also finding the net to give Pearce positive signs ahead of the tournament in July.
The Young Lions grabbed their seventh successive win, having not conceded a single goal in any of those matches, and Pearce admits he was surprised by the dominant performance.
"I just wish we were meeting up again tomorrow to prepare for another game," he said. "It's a great achievement, seven clean sheets on the trot, and that's credit to the lads. It couldn't have been a better way to get our preparations underway. It was beyond my expectations how well they gelled with each other.
"They passed the ball fantastically well, they had a real enthusiasm to stop the opposition getting efforts at our goal. Winning the game 4-0 was a real bonus.
"I think right across the squad, the way they've come together straight away for this new calendar year has been outstanding for us. It's our first stepping stone on building for the tournament in the summer."
After sailing out to a comfortable 3-0 half-time lead, England appeared somewhat disjointed in the second half as Pearce enforced a number of changes, leaving him cautious about adopting any unrealistic ambitions.
"I think there's a lot of work to do between now and the summer," Pearce said. "I've been to three tournaments before, I know the standard you have to achieve to actually win it so we'll have to go there with our best players, make no mistake about that.
"The Spanish will be strong, the Germans are looking very strong - the big powerhouses of Europe are at this tournament, so there's a long way to go."
Shelvey, Jordan Henderson and defender Adam Smith were all standouts for England, but Ince will take most of the plaudits after capping off a rich run of form for the national side with a brace.
Pearce believes the 21-year-old has shown the potential to follow in the footsteps of his father Paul's illustrious career.
"Tom's probably had about 12 efforts at goal over the games, real good chances in the previous matches and failed to score," Pearce said. "So we didn't want it to be a hang up for him because he's played extremely well in the other games. But we're pleased to see he's got on the scoresheet. I think his general all-round play was outstanding, along with a few others."
Pearce believes the 21-year-old has shown the potential to follow the illustrious career of his father Paul.
"We hope he's going to be better, we hope," he added. "If he emulates Paul then he's certainly had some career. He's an exciting talent, he's a different type of player, he's got clever movement, he's difficult to nail down for a full-back.
"He's your typical modern-day winger - happy to run at you out wide but also happy to come off the line and find little areas of space to really hurt the opposition. The important thing is he's very level-headed. And he's a pleasure to work with.
"I think there's a lot of common sense with Tom, he's above his years there's no doubt about that. Obviously he's got his pop (Paul) behind him as well giving him a guiding hand on what's best for him.
"There was speculation about him leaving the club (Blackpool) and I think maybe one or two offers but I think he's very level-headed. The most important thing is playing for a club at this moment in time and moving to a club who are going to give him a realistic chance of playing regular first-team football."