England commenced preparations for next summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals with a commanding 2-0 victory against Northern Ireland at Blackpool FC's Bloomfield Road.
In a game they controlled, England were rewarded with the goal their possession merited when Connor Wickham headed in on the stroke of half-time. The pattern of play seldom changed after the break and Benik Afobe completed the formalities with a coolly taken penalty 13 minutes from time.
The home side began with optimism and intent. Effervescent winger Andros Townsend led the charge, beguiling the Northern Ireland ranks, before seeing his venomous strike turned round a post by visiting goalkeeper Conor Devlin. Townsend came to the fore again five minutes later, pick-pocketing defender Adam Thompson and teeing up Wickham, whose sweetly struck shot drew a save from Devlin.
Unperturbed, Stuart Pearce's charges continued to probe and finally broke the visitors' resolve. Liverpool FC schemer Jordan Henderson was the architect, his delicious set-piece delivery finding Wickham, who planted a header beyond Devlin.
The start of the second half bore an uncanny resemblance to the first. Northern Ireland retreated into their shells, launching sporadic forays forward, while England dictated possession, turning defence into attack with clinical efficiency. So often the focal point, forward Nick Powell turned creator on the hour, squaring for Thomas Ince, who looked certain to score, only to blaze over.
The Blackpool midfielder was thriving on home turf and almost capped a lively performance with a goal, embarking on a mazy run before driving a shot into the legs of Devlin. They would not have to wait much longer to double their advantage, though, substitute Afobe earning a penalty, then dispatching the ensuing kick.
Amos; Smith, Wisdom (Maguire 61), Lees, Robinson (Moore 84); Townsend (Afobe), McEachran, Henderson (Chalobah 77); Powell, Ince; Wickham (Waghorn 77)
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