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Ward-Prowse urges Young Lions to step it up against Slovakia – or risk another humiliating exit

Date Posted,June 17, 2017

James Ward-Prowse has urged England not to let history repeat itself as the U21s face the agony of another early exit.

The Southampton midfielder is driven on by the memories of being part of a humiliating group stage exit in the Czech Republic two years ago.

They are on the brink again, facing Slovakia – who already have a win – with England’s stalemate against Sweden leaving them playing catch up.

With only the three group winners progressing to the semi finals, and one best runners-up place, it is a must-win game for Aidy Boothroyd’s men.

Senior boss Gareth Southgate, who was U21 boss for the qualifying stages, has been around the camp dishing out advice and monitoring training. England U21s have won only one of their last ten group games at Euro finals and scored just five times.

A dejected Ward-Prowse, after the draw with Sweden (Photo: PA Wire)

He said: “It is not a nice feeling when you don’t reach the level that you should do and the team two years ago should have gone further.

“That gives us all an incentive to put things right. It was massive disappointment but we’re lucky enough that we get another chance to put things right.

“There are six or seven of us from the last time so we’ve all got those feelings and that hunger to get things right. We want to make sure that we’re not having those same feelings again.”

England need to find a cutting edge, with rivals banking up with ten men behind the ball, leaving little space in danger areas.Leicester Demarai Gray is set for a recall to the starting XI, and Boothroyd could look for more guile in midfield.

Skipper Ward-Prowse has denied the Young Lions lack the bottle for tournament football, or feel inhibited.

England flattered to deceive in their opener (Photo: PA Wire)
Tammy Abraham had little in the way of service (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

He replied: “Not at all. Every game is tough. You come up against quality opposition with good players and it’s all about winning those games. You have a long process of getting to this stage and you don’t want to waste that opportunity. We have to make sure that when we cross the white line we give everything.

“We have got a team full of top quality players who have had great individual seasons. We have come together after a tough season and we want to be successful.

“We can take inspiration from recent teams’ victories in the World Cup and Toulon and we can build ourselves on the success we had in Toulon (last year). We had a great tournament there and developed that winning feeling and winning mentality. It is important to carry that forward.”

Southgate’s presence should be an inspiration for players wanting to make a late bid for the World Cup squad in Russia next summer, where Southgate heads this week to scout out a base.

Southgate and Steve Holland watch the Under-21s against Sweden (Photo: The FA Collection)

Ward-Prowse said: “He’s been around and spoke to us, pulled us individually and seen how we are.

“They played a massive part in our qualifying campaign to get us here. He wants to show us support and give us that confidence. It was great to see him here, to show us there is a pathway for young English players.

“We have a lot of friends in the seniors now and it is a time for us to show him what we can do individually and as a team.”

On the domestic front Ward Prowse if facing upheaval with the sacking last week of club boss Claude Puel.

Southampton have sacked Puel (Photo: Rex Features)

Ward-Prowse said: “It seems to happen every summer (that Southampton lose their manager) but that is the way football is sometimes. It is up to us as players to deal with it. The club and the players have shown that we can cope with managers and players going.

“Claude was very good to me, he gave me lots of opportunities and I got into the England squad while playing under him. I have got nothing but thanks for him.

“But my main focus at the minute is the tournament and making sure I am in the best way mentally and physically to help the team.

“We have to hit our top game, and show our resilience.”

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