England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce: Norwich City’s Ryan Bennett will get better with us

Norwich City defender Ryan Bennett will become an even better player for his time spent on international duty, according to England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce.

Bennett has started only one of the Canaries' seven Premier League fixtures this season, but will be hoping for a Carrow Road start in tonight's Euro 2013 play-off, first leg against Serbia (6pm).

A crowd of about 18,000 is expected – 15,500 tickets had been sold by yesterday lunchtime – as Pearce brings his Young Lions to Norwich for the third time in his reign.

And there will be considerable home interest if 22-year-old Bennett, one of two City players in the squad, wins his third cap after appearing in the 1-0 win over Norway at Chesterfield in September.

'He was outstanding at Peterborough. He has got a move now, he's playing in the Premier League and he is competing for a place,' said Pearce. 'He has been around our squad for a couple of matches, then he started the last game and he did extremely well, and he is one who is improving greatly.

'The more experience he gets both at club level in the Premier League and at under-21 level, the better it is for him as a player.'

City's Declan Rudd is one of four goalkeepers in the squad of 22, but the youngest, 19-year-old Jack Butland, looks set to start after dropping down from the senior squad.

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'The goalkeepers have done fantastically well,' said Pearce. 'Let me just say that. The fact that Jack has been up with the seniors and come back again, I didn't think it was right and proper to leave one of the three out to accommodate him. So I think that was important.'

Pearce has suffered a string withdrawals this week with Nottingham Forest's ex-Canary loan midfielder Henri Lansbury (ankle), Southampton defender Nathaniel Clyne (dead leg), Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell (bug) and Liverpool defender Andre Wisdom (shoulder) all dropping out, while Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey and Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand were promoted to Roy Hodgson's senior squad to cover for absentees as they face San Marino and Poland in World Cup qualifiers – though Bertrand has since pulled out with a virus.

But Pearce said he was satisfied with the strength of his squad.

'We've got 22 players with us now at this stage and they're all fully fit, vying for a starting position,' he said. 'We're disappointed to lose Andre and Nick and Jonjo has stepped up into the seniors and Lansbury we lost on day one. But everyone else is fully fit and looking forward to these two games.

'You can't afford to go into matches with any doubts on certain individuals. It's straightforward with me. If I don't think you're right, it's our duty to the player and the club, you go back.

'Jonjo is suspended for this one – the first leg. So for him to go with the seniors is probably ideal for me and Jonjo and Roy as well.

'The three strikers we've got we're quite happy with because we tend to play just one striker up front.'

Serbia provide formidable opponents tonight. They topped qualifying Group Four with five wins and three draws, and have reached two European Under-21 finals and a semi-final in the last four tournaments.

Said Pearce: 'I think anyone at this stage of the tournament would be tough, but we have pulled a team out of the hat who were unbeaten during qualification. Defensively, they are very strong and probably they are in a similar situation to ourselves in the sense they have players who have gone into the senior set-up and come back down again.

'It won't be won or lost on Friday evening. I am sure it will go over both legs and it will be very tight.

'We expect maybe the odd goal could decide this tie either way. The manager works at Red Star (Belgrade) and they have a lot of players from that club so that will help him.

'They are a good side. Any time you have played against them over the last few years you know how tough it will be.

'We have to make sure we are nice and tight defensively but it will be a fantastic advert for under-21 football.

'In my time probably the best game I have been involved in at under-21 level was the game here against Romania two years ago, not just from an English point of view but as a fantastic football match.'

� England Under-21 squad - Goalkeepers: Amos, Butland, Rudd, Steele. Defenders: Bennett, Caulker, Dawson, Lees, Robinson, Rose, Smith. Midfielders: Henderson, Ince, Lowe, McEachran, Rodwell, Sterling, Townsend, Zaha. Strikers: Delfouneso, Sordell, Wickham.

• Tickets for tonight's game are �10 for adults, and �5 for under-18s, over-65s, and students.

A family ticket is available at �20 (two adults, two under-18). There will be no public parking available at County Hall for the match, but 500 spaces are available at Carrow Road on a first come, first served basis at �5 per vehicle.

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