England Under-21 coach Aidy Boothroyd has warned there are no “second chances” ahead of his team’s must-win Euro 2017 group game against Slovakia.
The winner of each of the three groups qualifies automatically, with the best second-placed team also going through.
And after Friday’s goalless draw against Sweden in Poland, he said: “It is an unforgiving set up.
“You’ve got to hit the ground running. We have to win so there’s no point trying to shy away from it.”
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved a penalty towards the end of Friday’s match – and he said: “We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves, but we need to win two games.
“I think we can play a lot better but we still got a draw against Sweden and we can still get through.”
Slovakia beat hosts Poland 2-1 on Friday evening.
“We’ve got Slovakia and then the hosts on Thursday in front of a packed house. That’s going to be an interesting game, but that’s what we’re here for,” Pickford said.
Pickford, 23, said he was happy to secure his move from Sunderland to Everton before the tournament started.
“I didn’t know too much about it until I came out here, but I got the deal out of the way and over the line so I could focus on the Euros,” he said.
England have no injury worries and with a full squad to select from Boothroyd said he would sleep on his team selection before making a final decision on Monday morning.
I’m expecting there will be changes as England will look for greater creativity.
Boothroyd told me that he is looking at “two or three” areas where he might need to freshen up his team.
Whether that means a change of system from the 4-2-3-1 formation they used against Sweden remains to be seen. Certainly they need Southampton’s Nathan Redmond to have a greater influence. Derby County midfielder Will Hughes – another creative player – could be recalled.
Southgate’s presence can help the team
Boothroyd has challenged his players to go into their remaining games “full pelt” and is hoping that the presence of senior England coach Gareth Southgate will help to inspire his team.
Southgate, assistant Steve Holland and Football Association technical director Dan Ashworth flew in for the game against Sweden and watched training on Sunday.
“It’s really helpful having them here,” said Boothroyd. “It shows players there is a pathway for them.
“And if the senior manager can take time out of his busy schedule to come to watch us then it gives the players a boost. Gareth’s been very positive.
“It’s great, if I have any questions about players Gareth can be my sounding board because he knows them all so well and was with them in Toulon.”
Southgate was in charge of the under-21 team from August 2013 until he took over the senior side last September.
‘The mood is upbeat but it is effectively knockout football’
Quite simply, England have to win this match to maintain any hope of progressing.
In essence, despite this being the second group game, it’s knockout football because defeat will mean England are going home.
The mood around the camp remains relaxed and positive, they know what’s required both in terms of result and performance. Boothroyd has made it clear there is room for improvement following Friday’s display.
Slovakia are an attack-minded side and after coming from behind to defeat Poland on Friday, they know another victory will take them to the brink of a spot in the semi finals.
England have under performed at the last three European Under-21 Championships – winning just one game during that time – so victory is essential to avoid yet another early exit.