Mark Noble is delighted to be back in the frame for England Under-21s when they take on the Republic of Ireland in Cork on Tuesday night.
The key West Ham United midfielder was suspended for the 1-0 victory against Montenegro in Leicester on Friday night having picked up a yellow card in each of the previous two wins - 3-0 in Montenegro and 2-0 in Bulgaria when he also scored. The good run has left England ahead of Portugal, always so impressive at youth level but beaten 1-0 in Bulgaria on Friday, at the top of qualifying Group 3 in the race to reach the 2009 European Under-21 Championship.
Although Stuart Pearce's England have nine points from nine, Noble admitted he was a frustrated observer at the Walkers Stadium as Matt Derbyshire's first-half goal settled matters. He said: "After being involved with the last two matches and getting such good results, it was horrible to have to sit on the sidelines and watch the boys play as I am one of those players that just wants to play every game. Even though they did get a good result, I obviously hope I am in the manager's thoughts but we will have to wait and see.
"We are all really looking forward to the match, they have a lot of players that are playing in the English league so it will be a good competitive game. I know [striker] Billy Clarke particularly well from when I was at Ipswich so it will be good to come up against him. We are going into the match on the back of three victories and want to retain our place at the top of the group as we know we face stiff competition for the qualifying places from the likes of Portugal and Bulgaria so to get another three points and stretch our lead at the top is vital."
In U21 qualifying, the ten group winners and four best runners-up will advance to the October 2008 play-offs, where seven ties will decide which teams join hosts Sweden at the eight-team finals in summer 2009. England reached the semi-finals of the 2007 edition last June, thanks in part to the 20-year-old Noble and Anton Ferdinand, who is no longer eligible at this level.