England boss Gareth Southgate satisfied with victory but calls for improvements

Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
·4-min read

Gareth Southgate was pleased by victory in Albania but pointed to areas of improvement as England head into Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Poland in good health.

Fresh from Thursday’s 5-0 triumph against minnows San Marino at Wembley, the Three Lions travelled to Tirana looking to avoid a qualification hiccup against the side ranked 66th in the world.

England struggled on the stodgy Air Albania Stadium surface for much of the opening period, only for Harry Kane to expertly head home a cross from returning Luke Shaw as half-time approached.

The skipper hit the woodwork shortly after scoring his first international goal in 16 months, with Phil Foden seeing an effort tipped onto the post before Mason Mount coolly wrapped up a 2-0 win.

“I think we controlled the game very well,” England boss Southgate said.

“For the first 25 minutes or so we just struggled to find space in behind their midfield. The space was there, we could get the connections to the players.

“We just tweaked a little bit the way we were building up and then we had a little bit more joy, certainly down the left side with Luke, Raheem (Sterling) and Mason connecting to begin with.

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“Then gradually that happened on the right as well, so I think we were pleased with that.

“We controlled most of the game in that period, should have scored more.

“I didn’t particularly like the way we managed the last 15 minutes. I just thought there were some decisions we made that needed to be better in order to either score more or not invite pressure.

“I thought we could have kept the ball a bit better in those periods.

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“But, look, it’s a good win and we move on in healthy condition to Wednesday.”

Southgate was pleased by Shaw’s overall performance on his first international appearance since September 2018 and the way Kane led from the front in Tirana.

The England skipper not only scored but directed through for Mount to wrap up victory on Sunday as the Chelsea player continued this season’s excellent form.

“He’s a very good player – but I was saying this in the autumn,” Southgate said of Mount.

Mason Mount secured victory for England in Albania
Mason Mount secured victory for England in Albania (Florian Abazaj/PA)

“I suppose now Thomas Tuchel picks him probably everybody will agree! When it was Frank (Lampard) it didn’t count for some reason but he’s an exceptional player.

“He find space intelligently, he manipulates the ball very well, he creates chances, he can score goals.

“I thought his performance was excellent tonight but I thought Phil was also very good, our attacking four were good.

“(Declan) Rice and (Kalvin) Phillips read the game well, competed well, we won the ball back really quickly.

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“I think we were over 70 per cent possession. We have controlled the game and the longer it went on we created more chances and could have finished more comfortable.”

Asked if he would be prepared to start Mount against Poland on Wednesday after playing from the off against San Marino and Albania, Southgate said: “Absolutely.

“I think we’ve looked out for all of the players in the first game and his load coming into the camp was that he didn’t play in the midweek in the Champions League.

“But regardless of that, we’re trying to win and qualify for a World Cup.

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“I can’t be constantly thinking about rotating the squad. We’ve got a lot of players missing and we’ve tried to protect our forward players, in particular, through that first part of the week.

“Now we’ve just got to get on and try to win the games.”

Albania had made life difficult at the start of Sunday’s match, with Myrto Uzuni wasting a good chance following a rare Mount error before things got away from Edoardo Reja’s side.

“We have prepared this game to playing defence and to cause a lot of problems for the English team,” the Albania boss said.

Albania struggled to gain a foothold in the match in Tirana
Albania struggled to gain a foothold in the match in Tirana (Florian Abazaj/PA)

“But our plan did not go so well because we didn’t succeed in this way.

“Of course in the first half England was not so good. I mean, they made just a shot in the target.

“We were well organised in the defence and we tried to make some counter attacks but it was impossible because it was like crashing with a mountain of muscles.

“The English team are really strong and really quick.”