Gareth Southgate’s era in charge of England Under 21s begins tomorrow evening when the Young Lions face Moldova in an European Championship qualifier.
Reading’s Madjeski Stadium holds the start of Southgate’s reign, which should promise a fruitful start against the European minnows.
The squad has been training since Sunday at St George’s Park ahead of the tie and Southgate has confidence from what he’s seen of the lads so far.
The former Middlesbrough defender has also been happy with what he’s seen from some of the new faces in his squad. He told thefa.com: “It’s always the case with a new qualification period that there’s a new group of players coming through and one or two who have played in the side previously.
“This time, with a different group of staff and for myself and Steve Holland, it’s been a fresh challenge and we’ve really enjoyed it.
“The guys that are here have been very bright in training and we’re actually spoilt for choice in several areas of the field.”
The side come into the game off the back of a 6-0 thrashing of Scotland earlier in August, of which Roy Hodgson took temporary charge. While Hodgson is now back with the senior side, he used the chance to take a look at some of the younger boys and a few of them were invited to train with the seniors earlier this week: “It’s a brilliant opportunity for them and it’s one of the beauties of training at St. George’s Park,” Southgate said. “Six or seven of lads trained with the seniors on Monday, which we couldn’t do if we were playing somewhere else. Myself and Roy have spoken very carefully about all of this and I think it’s a very positive thing for us.
“The most important thing for us and everyone in the country over the next few months is that England qualify for the World Cup and if that means that these lads are benefiting from being in the senior squad, whether that’s training or playing, that’s the most important thing.”
John Stones played in that huge morale-boosting win over Scotland and the Everton defender insists the mood is ripe ahead of this Thursday’s match. He said: “It’s gone really well so far, I’ve been really enjoying it and it’s good to get back with England.
“Hopefully we’ll be prepared for the game against Thursday, the squad’s quite similar to last time, with a few additions and we all know each other well so there hasn’t been too many changes.
“The gaffer’s put his own stamp on what he wants from us in training so there’s a few changes here and there and there’s a good vibe about.”
Andre Wisdom will carry on with the captaincy after he led out the side against the Scots last month and expressed his delight at retaining the armband. He told thefa.com: “It’s a great honour to captain any England side at any level so I’m pleased to retain the captaincy and hopefully we can go on and do well.
“We’ve got two games coming up so it’s a chance to impress everyone and hopefully me and the lads can put a good performance on and show the fans what we’re really capable of.”
BT Sport is showing the fixture live on Thursday, kicking off at 7.45pm.
Watch highlights below from England’s thrashing of Scotland last month.