Gareth Southgate has earned time to solve England’s problems

 

Harry Maguire of England comes on the replace Bukayo Saka as England Manager Gareth Southgate looks on during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 3 match between England and Hungary at Molineux on June 14, 2022 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.

The Three Lions’ 6-3 loss to the Ferenc Puskas-inspired Mighty Magyars at Wembley in 1953, their first home defeat to non-British or Irish opposition, stunned the nation. A bit like Tuesday.

It was the catalyst to a major rethink in terms of tactics.

In this instance, England’s latest humiliating result against Hungary – and heaviest on home soil since 1928 – will not necessitate a rip-it-up-and-start-again approach and nor should it.

At the very least, it should ring the alarm bells in a World Cup year and a change of tack.

To suggest that the mauling at Wolves was all down to tiredness, mental and physical, at the end of a long season for many top-level players in a competition that many do not particularly care for is a dangerous assumption.

This was not just England’s fourth-successive match where they had not scored a goal from open play, but also a fourth poor performance in a row.

Ah, it’s only the Nations League, some might say. But, taking away these games, friendlies and some World Cup matches against opponents who England should win at comfortably less than half-pelt, they have won one match out of three against sides who can be ranked as decent in a major qualification competition since reaching the finals of Euro 2020.

Hungary took a point in their World Cup clash at Wembley last October and England had to settle for a draw in Poland in the previous month. The suggestion they have regressed since July is fair.

England remain overly reliant on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford having testing seasons for various reasons.

Defensively, there is no current centre-half pairing who you can also truly hang your hat on.

Harry Maguire has had a grim 2022-23 season, while John Stones continues to have a mistake too many in his locker given that he is a seasoned international at 28 who is operating for the one of the best club sides in the world.

His sending-off on Tuesday may have been a wretched decision, but his sloppy performance was far more concerning.

With no pairing who can be trusted, playing three centre-backs would provide insurance, with wing-backs being an obvious strength in terms of Gareth Southgate’s options in the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell.

In midfield, Kalvin Phillips had a rough time at Molineux without Declan Rice.

At their best, both are mobile and quick to spot danger. What England lack is someone with the touch, guile and vision to control a game. Jude Bellingham is still a rookie and the jury is out on Mason Mount.

The next World Cup finals are surely Jordan Henderson’s international swansong as well. The key might just be getting a system to get the best out of Phil Foden and Jack Grealish together.

The good news after Tuesday is that England don’t return to action until September 23 and can recharge and reflect. Southgate wil be grateful for small mercies.

Castigated with chants of ‘You don’t know what you are doing’ in the second half at Molineux, it was a far cry from the Sweet Caroline chants of not so long back for Southgate and his players.

A tight bunch, whose esprit de corps is strong and genuine, the group closed ranks after jeers from some fans during Euro 2020 warm-up games when England players opted to take the knee.

Their response on and off the pitch was impressive.

Alongside Southgate, Maguire also received censure at Wolves.

England’s unity is a core strength.

They may need another siege mentality going forward.

The honeymoon may be over for Southgate, but no-one should doubt his inner toughness.

He is wise enough to know that the moods of many fans, in these increasingly social-media driven world are brazenly fickle. Equally, he also shrewdly accepts that is the ticket as England manager.

On some fans having short memories, Southgate said: “I would say it has happened over a period of 10 days, not 11 months.

“I saw all my predecessors go through that and I know great people like Sir Bobby Robson with what he had to go through and how he was viewed in the end after getting a team to a World Cup semi-final.

“Football is emotional. People pay to come and watch and are going to give an opinion. If the flak comes my way, then I have to deal with that.

“As England manager, it’s not realistic to have the ride I’ve had for five years and not have bad, difficult nights and criticism. That is part and parcel of the job.”

Southgate handled questions well after Tuesday’s evisceration.

After the summer recess, Southgate will face some big autumn calls which he needs to get right.

Or the background noise will become a cacophony.

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