Good work-out for Noble

West Ham United midfielder Mark Noble had an extended run-out as England's Under-21 side went down to a 2-0 friendly defeat by France.

England, coached by former Hammers defender Stuart Pearce, struggled for long periods against a French team who, unlike the Young Lions, failed to qualify for this summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Sweden.

Noble, who earned his 15th Under-21 cap by lining up in a five-man midfield after being rested for last Friday's 5-0 victory in Norway, completed 71 minutes at Nottingham Forest's City Ground before being replaced by Aston Villa's Craig Gardner. However, it was the visitors who ended the night the happier of the two teams.

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart - replaced at club level by Republic of Ireland international Shay Given - pulled off three fine saves before the pressure on England finally told in the shape of a French opener.

Hart had repelled efforts from Liverpool's David 'Gog, twice, and Gabriel Obertain before the right winger, who is on loan at FC Lorient from Bordeaux, put France ahead with a neat finish from Moussa Sissoko's pass on 26 minutes.

Toulouse midfielder Sissoko then took advantage of a mistake by Middlesbrough defender David Wheater, latching on to Younousse Sankhare's through ball before lifting the ball over the advancing Hart ten minutes before half-time.

Portsmouth's Armand Traore could have made it 3-0 eleven minutes after half-time, but his finish was off-target after he had rounded Hart outside the penalty area.

A minute later, Tottenham Hotspur's Tom Huddlestone glanced a header wide from Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson's right-wing free-kick. Traore then tested Hart again with a rasping low shot as France regained the upper hand.

Pearce withdrew Noble as he reverted to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation with a little less than 20 minutes remaining, but the decision failed to spark a late England revival. The home side lost at home for the first time in 18 matches, although Johnson did go close with a curling free-kick late on.

The loss also marked the first time Noble had tasted defeat in normal time in an Under-21 shirt. The only previous time the 21-year-old had failed to avoid defeat was when England crashed out of the 2007 UEFA European Under-21 Championship on penalties to the Netherlands at the semi-final stage.

England get their 2009 Euro campaign under way when they take on Finland in their opening match at this summer's tournament in Halmstad on Monday 15 June. Pearce's team will face Spain in Gothenburg on 18 June before completing their Group A fixtures against Germany on 22 June.