England could scarcely have wished for better preparation for this summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel.
Monday's 4-0 friendly win against nine-man Austria was Stuart Pearce's side's ninth victory on the bounce, none of them tarnished by even conceding a goal. Indeed it is now over 800 minutes since the 2009 runners-up were breached, in a 2-1 defeat by Belgium more than 16 months ago. For Sunderland AFC striker Connor Wickham, scorer of England's fourth and man of the match in Brighton, the influence of Pearce – a combative defender as a player and now preparing for his fourth straight U21 finals in charge – cannot be underestimated.
"It's mega," the 19-year-old told UEFA.com. "I don't think I've met a more passionate man in my career. In the changing room you see it every time the game comes. You can see it in the way he is and all the boys feed off the energy he gives out.
"The manager stressed over the last year that it's important to keep clean sheets and defend from the front. It's down to the whole team, wherever the ball is, to get out and defend it. We've done that really well as a group and it's showing. It's no coincidence we've won nine games out of nine and not conceded. I think every game we've played we've dominated and anyone who's watching knows we're going to be hard to beat in Israel."
Looking to burst England's bubble in Group A this summer will be the hosts, Norway and Italy. Pearce, though, is not the only man whose knowhow could prove key; the likes of Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey, Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha all have the experience of full international honours to draw upon.
"We've got young players coming through and we've got experienced players like Hendo [Henderson] who've experienced the seniors," added Wickham. "We haven't got a weak spot so we'll be really hard to beat. We can go there, hold our heads up and be proud of what we've done. I think we've got one of the best teams so we can go there as strong favourites to come out as winners."
Wickham may be used to ploughing a lone furrow as the sole striker on the pitch, but his post-match sentiments were echoed by team-mate Josh McEachran, whose impudent penalty put England 2-0 up at the Falmer Stadium. "The team have been together about nine days now and we've got two great results, so we're in good nick going into the tournament," said the Chelsea FC midfielder. "We've got a great team, great players and a great team spirit – we just need to look forward to Israel now.
"We've got the players to go all the way. We just need to keep the spirit good, keep everyone up for it and we can do it. I think the whole team knows what they're doing and we've got good enough players to win it."
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