Noble shines in England U21 win

Mark Noble capped a fine individual display with two goals for England Under-21s on Tuesday night as they won 3-0 in the Republic of Ireland.

Having been suspended for Friday night's 1-0 victory against Montenegro in Leicester, the West Ham United midfielder returned to Stuart Pearce's starting lineup in Cork. His double strike, along with a James Milner goal, ensured the fourth straight success for England in 2009 European Under-21 Championship qualifying Group 3 and leaves them three points ahead of Portugal.

Speaking to Sky Sports after being named man of the match, Noble said: "I think we knew it would be tough here to come and play with the fans on their side. We got some early goals, we scored three in the first half which helped us out and we defended like a team. We thoroughly deserved it in the end.

"I should have had a hat-trick," he added after seeing a late chance denied by a brilliant block. "I am disappointed with myself with two...I should have scored a third. It was a great tackle from the lad but two is good enough for me."

Noble served notice of his intent as early as the fourth minute against an attack-minded Ireland side boasting several players who ply their trade in English football. Joining the attack late, he found himself unmarked in the centre of goal - only to shoot tamely at the home goalkeeper when it seemed certain he would break the deadlock.

It was not to be long before Noble had made amends, first applying a neat lofted finish to score in the tenth minute before surging on to a right-wing cross seven minutes later to find the net with a sweet right-foot shot. Despite his best efforts, not least with that surging run and shot that was cleared in the 75th minute, the ever-willing Noble could not find the hat-trick goal his play warranted in the second half.

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, who now has three goals in this qualifying campaign, and Anton Ferdinand, who is no longer eligible at this level.