STUART Pearce has praised Mark Noble's leadership skills after the West Ham midfielder was captain during England's rout of Azerbaijan.

England Under 21s beat their eastern European opponents 7-0 in a friendly, which proved to be perfect preparation for the next week's European Championship finals.

Noble demonstrated his passing and tackling ability in Milton Keynes yesterday and scored England's second goal, with a little help from a deflection off the goalkeeper.

Former Hammer Pearce knows a thing or two about leadership having worn the captain's arm band at Nottingham Forest leading the Reds to the Littlewoods and Simod cups and also won 76 caps for England.

The ex-defender believes Noble is a contender to be named captain for the finals, which begins in Sweden on Monday. He said: "Mark has been outstanding. He's a chirpy character. We've lost (Newcastle United's) Steven Taylor which is a blow to this squad but Mark has done extremely well.

"I think he bounces off the players extremely well. With that in mind he captained the side and I think his performance was very good."

Noble is one of a handful of players who is in the running to be handed the armband for England's opening fixture against Finland in Halmstad, with Manchester City pair Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, Aston Villa's James Milner and Wigan Athletic's Lee Cattermole are also in contention.

Whoever Pearce selects, he is confident England's strong team spirit will see them back their leader.

The Under 21s boss said: "The spirit is good in the camp. They all want to be there and all want to go. I've had them together for a couple of weeks and they've been fantastic on the training pitch and they took that camaraderie and ability on to the pitch on Monday.

"I'm pleased with what's on that aeroplane going to Sweden. Now it's down to them to have a tilt at this tournament if we can. I'm not sure who my captain will be. I think I've got a few candidates to captain this team and I'll decide that the night before we play Finland."

Noble is one of four survivors from England's run to the semi-finals of Euro 2007, when he scored twice in the Under 21s heart-breaking 13-12 penalty shoot-out defeat by Holland.

Pearce believes that experience will serve England well as they prepare for Euro 2009.

"We're at the business end of these championships now and one thing I can guarantee is that 23 people will come back in three weeks time having had a fantastic experience at the championship.

"You've only got to ask the ones who went two years ago that, to a man, they had a great time. There was a bit of heartbreak and a bit of nervousness and a bit of everything but we enjoyed the camaraderie and everything we had between us. I think this group of 23 will go with the same mentality," he said.

After taking on Finland on Monday, England complete their Group B games against Spain in Gothenburg on June 18 and Germany in Halmstad on June 22.