Noble makes mark for Under-21s

Mark Noble turned in a tireless display as England ground out a deserved 3-0 victory in a 2009 European Under-21 Championship qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Southampton.

The West Ham United midfielder, still only 20, was one of the star performers with a driving display that saw the home side, made up mostly of Premier League regulars, turn the screw in the final 30 minutes. Noble had scored twice in the reverse fixture in Cork last October but had to be content with a supporting role on Tuesday night as James Milner and Theo Walcott took the scoring plaudits.

The first came in the 59th minute as Milner found space to the right of goal and his intended cross for Noble was deflected by Stephen O'Halloran into his own net. Nine minutes later, Milner doubled his, and his country's, advantage with a low shot from a central position. Then, with eleven minutes left, Noble surged forward before sliding the ball into Arsenal attacker Walcott, who curled in a delightful effort. He then made way for Southampton starlet Andrew Surman with five minutes to play.

Stuart Pearce's Under-21 side are in a commanding position as they look to reach the play-offs for the eight-nation finals, which will be played in Sweden in 16 months' time. England are leading the way in Group with 19 points from seven games, nine ahead of nearest rivals Portugal who have two games in hand. The two nations meet in England's final qualifier on 5 September with only the group winners and four best runners-up from the ten sections guaranteed a play-off place.