Pride for Derby County's Will Hughes as he makes his debut for England U21s
WILL Hughes described his debut for England Under-21s last night as a very proud moment.
The 17-year-old Derby County midfielder played 24 minutes as a substitute in the 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland in a friendly international at Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool.
In doing so, Hughes is thought to be the second youngest player to represent England at under-21 level after Arsenal's Theo Walcott.
Walcott was 17 years and 152 days old when he made his first appearance. Hughes, whose birthday is in April, was 17 and 220 days old yesterday.
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"It was a very proud moment," said Hughes.
"When you represent England at any level it is great but at under-21 it is very special considering I am only 17.
"To be called up is one thing but to get on the pitch was an amazing feeling.
"I enjoyed it out there. The first few moments were a bit nervy but once I got a few touches of the ball it became easier.
"The last few days have been a brilliant experience for me and I've tried to make the most of every second and learn as much as possible."
In a nice twist, the game featured two former Repton School pupils – Hughes and Jonny Gorman, the 20-year-old Wolves' midfielder who was on the bench for Northern Ireland. Gorman has been capped at senior level.
It has been a dream year for Hughes, a product of the Rams' Academy.
He has become a regular starter for Derby in the Championship this season and has signed a new long-term contract.
Hughes was named among England's nine substitutes and his big moment arrived after 66 minutes when he replaced Josh McEachran, the Chelsea midfielder who is on loan at Middlesbrough.
Nigel Clough said Hughes would not be fazed by his call-up and the Rams manager was right. He took up a deep-lying role in central midfield, displayed his usual composure on the ball and saw a shot from distance deflected over.
England dominated for long spells of the contest and were on top from the first whistle.
The first half was played almost exclusively in Ireland's half and with plenty of men behind the ball, they frustrated England.
But the Irish resistance was finally broken in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Jordan Henderson delivered a free kick and Connor Wickham powered a header beyond keeper Conor Devlin.
Ireland brought on Gorman after an hour but it was England who continued to threaten and they doubled their lead after 76 minutes when substitute Benik Afobe converted a penalty after he had been brought down by Devlin.
ENGLAND U21: Amos (Steele, 46); Smith (Clyne, 60), Wisdom (Maguire, 60), Lees, Robinson (Moore, 84); Ince (Waghorn, 77), McEachran (Hughes, 66), Henderson (Chalobah, 77), Powell; Wickham, Townsend (Afobe, 60). Other sub: Johnstone (gk).
NORTHERN IRELAND U21: Devlin (Glendinning, 77); Hodson (C McLaughlin, 46), McKeown (Donnelly, 85), Clucas (Morgan, 68), Thompson (Hegarty, 77), Flanagan (McEleney, 46), Winchester (Gorman, 60), Lund (McAlinden, 77), Magennis (Boyce, 77), P McLaughlin, Carson.
REFEREE: J Beaton (Scotland).