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Hart stands firm for England Under-21s

Joe Hart England U21 International March 2009

Joe Hart England U21 International March 2009

Joe Hart was just one of three goalkeepers fielded by manager Stuart Pearce in an extraordinary 7-0 warm-up win over Azerbaijan that sends England Under-21s into next week's European Championships in buoyant mood.

Peterborough's Joe Lewis played the final 15 minutes up front as former City boss Pearce, short of seven injured men including Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, shuffled his substitutes to maximum effect.

Hart, a little match rusty after losing his City place to Shay Given in January, had to be on his toes for a couple of smart reaction saves and did well until making way for Watford's Scott Loach nine minutes from the end.

By that time England had already notched their biggest score since a 7-3 win over France in 1990 with goals from Michael Mancienne, Craig Gardner, Jack Rodwell, two from Keiran Gibbs and two own goals from the vastly outplayed visitors.

Onuoha (abductor muscle) and Richards (groin) both missed out on the Milton Keynes action as a precaution but will be in the squad that flies out to Sweden on Thursday for the crucial opener with Finland in Halmstad on Monday.

Pearce's first-choice defenders were hardly missed. Azerbaijan, without a competitive win since 2001, struggled from the off, conceding to Mancienne after 48 seconds and going downhill from there against eager England.

Pearce, who once sent David James on as a striker while in charge at City, said: "Lee Cattermole had a slight injury and I'd used all our outfield subs - I was at a loss but Joe put himself forward. I didn't want to be disrespectful to the opposition. Joe thought he ran around more than Fraizer Campbell but we'll look at the video!

"It's very difficult to score seven at this level. We worked hard in training and they took it out onto the pitch. We're not that naive as to think it will be that easy next week. We will have to push ourselves, test ourselves."

Gibbs, 19 and left-back in the Arsenal Academy side just a few months ago, was man of the match at stadium:mk with an all-action performance in an assortment of positions further up the pitch.

Pearce, who also blooded James Tomkins and Danny Rose, said: "They're putting me under pressure. I watched Kieran five or six times for Arsenal and he was outstanding. He's got an old head on young shoulders and a bright future."

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