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England u21s: View From The Press Box

11 September 2012

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The newly-renamed Proact Stadium was completely transformed on Monday evening, when Stuart Pearce brought his young lions to Chesterfield for the first ever time. The future stars of the English game were on show in front of a capacity crowd of 9,947 in Derbyshire, with Liverpool youngsters Martin Kelly, Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson all representing the national side.

Sunderland striker Connor Wickham scored the only goal of the game two minutes shy of the break, when he capitalised on a mistake in the Norwegian defence to slide beneath Viking goalkeeper Arild Østbø and secure England's place in the Under-21 European Championship play-offs for the tournament in Israel in 2013 as Group 8 winners.

Following on from the Proact Stadium's first international fixture - when England u19s suffered a 1-0 defeat in front of 9,141 against their German counterparts in February 2011 - the country's national team returned in what was a fantastic event for all connected with the football club ahead of the senior side's World Cup 2014 qualifier with Ukraine at Wembley on Tuesday night.

Upon the press team's arrival at the ground, the Football Association had completely rebranded the stadium with their own signage adorned with the famous three lions crest. The press room itself had taken an unfamiliar revamp, with the sponsorship hoardings already in place ready for Pearce's post-match press conference with the many media that had applied for accreditation.

Tommy Wright's office had also been taken over by the FA, strewn with everything from the fourth official's board to Umbro tracksuits for the ball-boys and the Scotsman will undoubtedly be hoping it is all cleared by this morning ready for his arrival ahead of training! Further down the corridor, UEFA had set-up their officials room and doping control room before the teams arrived, with excitement already beginning to reach fever pitch with everyone at the stadium.

With about an hour to go before kick-off, the Norwegian press and representatives from the FA arrived and were greeted with a warm welcome from the press team and were also treated cornish pasties, steak pies and cappuccinos. You certainly don't usually get that for a League Two fixture! The national flags parade took place before the teams emerged from the tunnel and following on from the anthems, the game finally got underway.

Leicester City striker Martyn Waghorn was the first to sting the palms of Norway stopper Østbø in front of his manager Nigel Pearson with a fizzing drive before Tom Ince, son of former captain Paul, missed a gilt-edged opportunity to put England in front. But just as it was on that famous night in Rome when his father - complete with a Terry Butcher-esque head wound - skippered the senior side to the World Cup finals in France in 1998, it remained goalless.

It had been a largely uninspiring opening half, but just two minutes before the break Black Cats striker Wickham capitalised on a mistake in the Norwegian defence to slam home the opener. The game seemed to spring to life, as Reds right-back Martin Kelly scrambled one clear to preserve Pearce's side's slender advantage as the teams went in at half-time.

The Pukka Pies England band had made the trip to the Proact Stadium and they could be heard loud and clear throughout, none more so than a stirring rendition of Julian Nott's Wallace and Gromit theme tune before a Mexican wave predictably erupted around the ground.  But England joy soon almost turned to despair when their Scandinavian visitors rattled the underside of the bar courtesy of Red Bull Salzberg forward Håvard Nielsen.

But Pearce's young side held on to clinch their sixth win of the qualifying campaign and take one step closer to Israel. Once the full-time whistle was blown, the press box then scampered to the mixed-zone by the tunnel to get their scoop from the game and Spireites Player managed to catch up with Liverpool star and under-21 skipper Jordan Henderson, as well as manager Stuart Pearce.

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