England 0-4 Hungary: Cheers to jeers for Gareth Southgate as Nations League humiliation turns up heat

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England 0-4 Hungary: Cheers to jeers for Gareth Southgate as Nations League humiliation turns up heat
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A year ago, England fans were singing Gareth Southgate’s name to the tune of Atomic Kitten, but last night they were booing him after a miserable end to the season for the Three Lions.

Before this month, Hungary had not beaten England for 60 years, but over the course of the past two weeks they have defeated them twice.

This was England’s heaviest home defeat since 1928, while it was the first time in their history they had lost a home match by four without scoring.

As the goals kept coming last night, so did the boos. Many fans had chosen to leave Molineux before the final whistle, but those who stayed made their views clear as they called for Southgate to go, as well as booing him and the players as they walked round the pitch.

Those scenes were in stark contrast to what happened exactly a year ago, when England beat Croatia in their opening game of Euro 2020.

Back then, the mood was one of optimism, but England’s four games this month have changed that ahead of the World Cup. Two defeats by Hungary, either side of draws with Germany and Italy, have led fans to question Southgate, who now has just two games in September to get England back on track before Qatar.

“I knew the role before I took it,” said Southgate, when asked about the sea-change in the attitude towards him.

“It’s happened over the period of 10 days, but I saw my predecessors go through that and I know great people like Sir Bobby Robson, what he had to go through and how he was viewed in the end on getting the team to a World Cup semi-final. Football is emotional.

“The team weren’t able to deliver tonight — my responsibility, and so if the flak comes my way, then I have to deal with that.”

There are mitigating factors for this performance, particularly players feeling the strain at the end of a season that started 311 days ago, but nonetheless it was a lacklustre and disjointed display.

England, especially, lost their way towards the end, with Hungary scoring three goals in the final 20 minutes and Southgate throwing on Harry Maguire just to try to stem the flow. The fact John Stones was sent off, admittedly for a harsh second yellow card, merely added to the chaos.

“It’s a chastening night,” said Southgate. “We’ve not lost many football matches and when you lose so heavily at home, especially, with England that’s going to be very, very painful.”

Southgate has plenty of credit in the bank, after guiding England to a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final — and that should not be forgotten, even after a night like this.

Gareth Southgate is enduring his worst spell as England manager after a chastening 4-0 defeat by Hungary (Action Images via Reuters)
Gareth Southgate is enduring his worst spell as England manager after a chastening 4-0 defeat by Hungary (Action Images via Reuters)

On the biggest stages, Southgate has usually delivered, but this run of four games has not been the preparation for Qatar he would have wanted.

Southgate experimented during the four matches, trying out new combinations and players, but he will not have that luxury in September. England will need to hit the ground running in those two games and play their strongest XI, but there are real question marks about what that is now.

The defence looks shaky, whether playing as a back-three or four, with Maguire and Stones not looking like the solid partnership of last year.

Reece James has been a rare plus at right-back, but Southgate still has not found a way to get the best out of Trent Alexander-Arnold. On the other flank, the absence of Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw has highlighted a lack of depth.

In midfield, Declan Rice must start, but his partner is less certain than at the start of this month. Kalvin Phillips is out of form and, if the Leeds player cannot rediscover it, Jude Bellingham has done enough to warrant the spot.

Southgate has plenty of credit in the bank, after guiding England to a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final — and that should not be forgotten, even after a night like this

As for the attack, no one really caught the eye during a run of games that yielded one goal and the biggest winner could be Phil Foden, who missed nearly all of the campaign with Covid-19.

Southgate can start pondering his plans today, while Hungary boss Marco Rossi is attending a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Budapest.

There he will no doubt raise a glass to a historic night for Hungary and one Southgate hopes does not leave any scar tissue for England.

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