Noble on Young Lions duty

Mark Noble was back in action on Monday as he trained with England Under-21s ahead of the friendly against Slovenia in Hull.

The 21-year-old midfielder has been a key part of Stuart Pearce's squad for the 2009 European U21 Championship qualifiers and is expected to feature at the KC Stadium on Tuesday night. It is the final warm-up before the decisive last Group 3 fixture next month against Portugal - which has the added incentive of being staged at Wembley. Speaking to, Pearce said: "It is a very strong squad and it's a sign of our intent for the season coming up, not just for the Under-21s but the seniors as well."

In driving rain during today's session, Noble was in good spirits especially after helping West Ham United to a 2-1 win against Wigan Athletic on Saturday. Among those also on a high were Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor - fresh from his hat-trick on Sunday in a 4-2 defeat of Manchester City. Despite the feelgood factor, Pearce was also in serious mood. He added: "Friendlies are not friendlies when you play for England, and as a patriot I was very proud every time I played for my country. Players are judged each time they pull on a shirt for England."

Noble, who has ten caps and three goals at this level, will hope to be involved when Portugal arrive on Friday 5 September. The Young Lions are six points ahead of their visitors at the top of Group 3 although Portugal have two games left to play compared to England's one. A point would therefore make sure of top spot and one of the ten places guaranteed to qualifying group winners in October's play-offs for the finals in Sweden next summer. The four best runners-up will also be involved.