By Tony Leighton
Blackpool winger Tom Ince boosted his burgeoning reputation with a two-goal Man of the Match performance for England Under-21's as Stuart Pearce's young bucks beat Sweden 4-0 in a Tuesday night friendly at npower League 1 Walsall.
Ince was one of six Football League players who took part in an impressive England display which also brought goals for Liverpool's former Charlton Athletic striker Jonjo Shelvey and substitute Connor Wickham, now with Sunderland after joining from Charlton's Championship rivals Ipswich Town.
With Ince's father Paul, a lauded ex-England midfielder who won 53 international caps, watching proudly from the stands, the 21-year-old Seasiders starlet shone throughout as one of just three youngsters who played the whole 90 minutes at a rain-drenched Banks's Stadium.
The game was part of England's build-up to June's European Under-21 Championship finals in Israel and Ince told football-league.co.uk: "If we put in performances like this as a team I'm sure we can go a long way at the finals.
"Against a young but decent Swedish side we attacked really well and it was great for me to get a couple of goals. But on a difficult pitch the midfielders always provided a good service for the front players and defensively I thought we were exceptional, so it was a good night all-round for us.
"If we all want to be involved in Israel though, what we have to do now is go back to our clubs and knuckle down to make sure we're performing well because a lot of players will want to be in the squad and no one's place is certain."
The sought-after Ince, who was linked with a big money move to Liverpool - the Premier League club where he started his career - in the January transfer window, certainly did no harm to his own chances of making the squad for the Euro finals, as did a number of the other Football League players on show.
"It just goes to show the quality talent there is in the Football League," said Ince. "Wilfred Zaha got his great move from Palace to Manchester United last month after lighting up the Championship, Jason Lowe [Blackburn Rovers] always does well and youngsters like Will Hughes [Derby County] don't look out of place at this level."
Ince and each of his England Under-21 team mates from Football League outfits will be looking at the next level both internationally and with their club teams, aiming to step up to Roy Hodgson's senior national squad while helping their own club side move up to the Premier League.
Blackpool went close last term, reaching the Championship Play-Off Final 12 months after being relegated from the top flight, but - in spite of Ince scoring a well-taken equaliser - losing 2-1 to West Ham United at Wembley.
The Seasiders are currently lying 15th in the table, 10 points below the Play-Off places, but Ince said: "We went on a great run in the last couple of months of last season to reach the Play-Offs, and we've got a good enough squad to do it again."
Ince, who arrived at Bloomfield Road at the start of last season, has hit 16 goals to date in the current campaign and it seems only a matter of time before he is snapped up by one of the big Premier League clubs. But he is in no hurry.
"My dream is to play at the top level," he said, "but it's all about timing. Blackpool have given me the stage to perform and this season's been great for me so far, but I'm just keeping my head down, working hard on my game and trying to maintain my form to help my team climb the table."
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