• England Under-21 4-0 Sweden Under-21
• Ince 10 42, Shelvey 30, Wickham 77
Stuart Pearce is more confident than ever of guiding England's youngsters to glory after seeing his under-21 team produce the finest performance of his five-year tenure to crush Sweden and record their seventh win in a row, all without conceding a goal. The manner of the victory left Pearce believing that England have a strong chance of triumphing at this summer's European Championship in Israel.
This match marked the first of a year in which Pearce's team hope to surpass rather than emulate the custom of the senior team. So far under Pearce, whose contract expires in July, England have achieved qualification for four successive tournaments but flunked each time in the finals.
England came into this game having won every match they played in 2012. Pearce used 37 players in that period, showing the strength in depth the country boasts at this level. That has yet to transform into trophies and he is determined to at last produce a class of graduates to the senior team with experience of winning an international competition.
The value of Sweden as a sparring partner was dubious, as they were shorn of several of the players who had come close to reaching the finals before being beaten in a play-off by Italy, who are England's first group opponents in Israel. Still, they had the highly-rated Cologne striker Mikael Ishak and were led by Oscar Hiljemark, the artful midfielder who moved from Elfsborg to PSV Eindhovenin January.
Pearce also had to contend with the usual raft of withdrawals, as players such as Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling had to drop out, but he could still field a potent lineup, including Jordan Henderson, who was named England's Under-21 player of the year for 2012, and his Liverpool team-mates Jonjo Shelvey, Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson. The new Manchester United signing Wilfried Zaha also started.
On a rugged, rainy night in Walsall, England blew away the visitors. They looked particularly incisive down the right and it was no surprise that this was the source of the first goal, Adam Smith cantering forward before curling a low cross into the box, where Tom Ince arrived to slot it into the net and claim his first goal in his six appearances at this level.
As so often in underage groups, England looked more powerful than their opponents but, encouragingly, they were also superior technically and tactically. For long periods they monopolised possession by passing crisply and their movement, especially of Zaha and the trio of attacking midfielders just behind him perplexed Sweden. Shelvey conjured something that baffled everyone in the ground in the 18th minute, when, after fine work on the right by Smith and Henderson, he somehow nodded wide from two yards.
On the half-hour mark Shelvey got on the scoresheet, firing into the net via the crossbar after another Smith cross from the right. Ince extended England's lead before the interval, stroking into the net after Andreas Linde turned away a Josh McEachran penalty that Ince had earned.
Play became fragmented in the second half as both sides made a slew of substitutions. Nevertheless, Ince nearly plundered his hat-trick on the hour when he slid in to meet a Connor Wickham cross from the right but the goalkeeper saved well.
Sweden failed to muster a shot on target and England deflated their guests even further in the 77th minute when Wickham nodded a Henri Lansbury cross into the net to delight the 9,758 spectators who had braved the conditions.
"That is arguably as well as we've played. It couldn't have been any better," Pearce said. "It was beyond my expectations how quickly they gelled together and passed fantastically well."
He was particularly pleased with Ince's contribution and with the fact that the 21-year-old, having stayed at Blackpool, is likely to continue playing regularly rather than having to jostle for a starting place at a bigger club.
"There is a lot of common sense with him and he's got his pop behind him giving him a guiding hand too," Pearce said. "The most important thing is he is playing regularly. He never seems to get tired or injured. He keeps playing with the same enthusiasm and he has racked up a lot of games."
Asked whether Ince has the ability to match the career of his famous father, Paul, Pearce said: "We hope he can be even better. Obviously if he emulates Paul, then he'll have had some career. He's a different type of player. He's a real modern winger, with clever movement and happy to run at you out wide and come in off the line and find areas of space to hurt the opposition."
Pearce's primary hope is that the likes of Ince will be available to him when the finals come round, unlike in previous years when England's top youngsters have been kept for the senior team or even their clubs.