England's final home friendly before the European Under-21 Championship in Israel in June was a last chance to impress Stuart Pearce, the head coach, but few made the most of it in a game that was not so much a send-off as a game decided by sendings-off.

Pearce's charges laboured against an Austria team that was reduced to nine men early in the second half. Goals from Jonjo Shelvey, Josh McEachran, Marvin Sordell and Connor Wickham ensured a ninth successive victory and a ninth successive clean sheet. But this was anything but a formality, with the England defence often stretched until the red cards appeared.

"Certainly on results I couldn't have asked for more," Pearce said, but he admitted: "I think this flattered us, if I'm honest. It was nicely balanced but maybe the sendings-off, certainly the second, slanted the balance in our favour and we didn't learn a lot after that."

Nevertheless, he was satisfied with the workout together with the 3-0 victory over Romania last Thursday, while leaving the door open before he names the squad for Israel on or around 15 May. "The two games have been invaluable," he said. "There are 21-22 people I know in my mind but there are still opportunities for individuals to stake a claim. Luke Shaw [of Southampton] has been playing well but injuries have kept him away from this squad."

The early stages of the game looked interesting for England, but the promise soon faded and Austria had three good chances in the 16th minute as VfB Stuttgart's Raphael Holzhauser, the captain, was twice denied by Jason Steele and then Florian Kainz's shot from distance was cleared off the goal-line by Danny Rose.

England's marksmanship was less efficient, Tom Lees and Nathaniel Chalobah putting efforts over the bar and Jonjo Shelvey half-volleying wide, but after 37 minutes they were gifted a decisive advantage. Richard Strebinger, Austria's goalkeeper, came out to gather a through pass intended for Wickham and was carried outside the penalty area by his momentum. Although the offence hardly qualified as the denying of a goalscoring opportunity with a defender on hand, Swiss referee Adrien Jaccottet produced a straight red card.

"I was disappointed and so was their manager," Pearce said. "I understand referees are under pressure and they get vilified if they make mistakes but it would have been better had he stayed on. We would have all preferred that." The first touch for the substitute goalkeeper Christoph Riegler was to pick the ball out of his net after Shelvey rifled the free kick through the wall and low into the corner of the goal.

It was a lead England scarcely deserved after a disjointed display, but it could have been doubled with the last kick of the first half when Chalobah, on loan from Chelsea to Watford and singled out for praise by Pearce for his performance over the two games, hit a dipping volley from 25 yards that Riegler fingertipped over the bar.

A second goal, though, came soon after half-time and again it followed a dismissal, Patrick Farkas blocking substitute McEachran's shot with his arm and earning a second yellow card. McEachran, also on loan from Chelsea, to Middlesbrough, stroked home the penalty to score his first England goal. Sordell, another substitute, flicked home the third and Wickham beat the offside trap to roll home the fourth as the match became a training exercise of attack versus defence. Pearce is in no doubt that sterner challenges await. "There are some good sides coming to the championships and we won't get washed away, thinking because we've won a couple of games on the spin it's going to be nice and comfortable in the summer. My feet are firmly on the ground and the players' are as well."