Gareth Southgate did not get the performance or night he wanted, but progress to the World Cup finals and England’s potential gives him something positive to hold onto.
Harry Kane fired the country to victory and next summer’s finals in Russia, but in truth the Three Lions put in a concerning display against Slovenia as they limped to a 1-0 win on Thursday evening.
An England performance as ponderous as it was underwhelming meant those in attendance seemed more excited about paper planes landing around the pitch than matters on it.
Southgate knows there is plenty of work to do to prevent next year’s World Cup going the same way as recent major tournament displays, with the manager under no illusions of the task ahead of him.
“No, not relief,” Southgate said. “I always felt that we would achieve the objective.
“I think tonight highlighted where we are. Of course we’d have loved to have played more fluidly and scored more goals.
“We played a team who came to make it really difficult for us to create chances. We had some good individual attacking moments without being able to make the final ball or there were blocks or fouls that broke the game up, so that was frustrating.
“We had to find a way of winning by being a bit more savvy because we were not flowing with the ball, but we have got goalscorers.
“The important thing was to stay resilient through what was a difficult period – probably half an hour from the end – where there was a bit of anxiety you could see, an important save from Joe Hart, and we have to become a team who scores late goals and doesn’t concede them. That’s become a little bit of a theme the last few games.
“Was it the performance we wanted and the night we wanted? No, absolutely not.
“But I was given the job to keep things steady a year ago. The objective was to qualify for Russia. Now we have the opportunity to look how do we evolve the team?
“We had to keep winning and we have to keep giving young players the opportunity to mature, so to marry those things is difficult.”
While Thursday’s performance was not how Southgate wanted to celebrate his year in charge, the outcome deserves credit after he was parachuted into the job following Sam Allardyce’s abrupt exit.
Sunday’s final Group F match in Lithuania offers the chance to give England fans something to cheer about, while allowing Southgate to experiment as World Cup preparations get under way.
“In the end, for English football it’s crucial to be at the World Cup,” Southgate said. “Absolutely crucial for everybody – probably quite critical for the economy as well.
“I am not going to hide and say we are exactly where we want to be or the performance was what we’d have liked it to be.
“But we have had, in my period in charge, six wins, two draws, with one of the best defensive records in Europe in qualifying.
“We have got players that we think can score goals and we know exactly where we can improve.”
The defeat means Slovenia cannot reach the World Cup, but they will have a major say in whether Scotland do.
Srecko Katanec confirmed Sunday’s game will be his last in charge of the national team – a match he approaches frustrated by the result, but proud of his side’s display.
“Congratulations to England,” he said. “They maybe didn’t really deserve this victory but they scored a goal. I wish them good luck at the World Cup.
“We played a very good game, our goal was to win – one point would not be enough to get to the World Cup.
“But I think my players deserve congratulations as well and I think we played a decent game and they can be proud.”
England Football News
The above content was supplied by Football.co.uk