Gareth Southgate criticises ‘unusually disjointed performance’ in Hungary draw

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Gareth Southgate will pore over an “unusually disjointed performance” against Hungary to ensure England put it right and wrap up World Cup qualification next month.

A home match against Albania and trip to minnows San Marino are all that remains for the Group I leaders on the road to Qatar, with the unbeaten Three Lions holding a three-point cushion over nearest rivals Poland.

The fact some bookmakers have them priced at 1/1000 to top the pool underlines the feeling that it would take something remarkable to derail their qualification, but Tuesday’s meek performance was surprising.

A month on from winning 4-0 in Budapest, England were made to sweat at Wembley as John Stones cancelled out Roland Sallai’s penalty in a 1-1 draw marred by away fan violence and an arrest for racism.

Euro 2020 stars Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling were among the below-par performers on Tuesday, but Southgate is not sure if it is down to any hangover from the summer having also failed to the heights at club level.

England v Hungary – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group I – Wembley Stadium
Harry Kane had a frustrating night against Hungary (Nick Potts/PA)

“I mean, it’s easy to speculate but I think every individual is different,” the England boss said.

“I thought it was just one of those nights where we started poorly, we weren’t in contact with them on our pressure, which gave them a little bit of comfort in the game.

“We gave needless passes away that led to counter-attacks that gives you the feeling that you’re stretched, even though they didn’t create really clear chances.

“I just thought it was an unusually disjointed performance that we’ve got to go away and look at closely and make sure we put it right for next month.”

Such were England’s struggles that Southgate made the eye-catching decision to replace captain Kane and Sterling in search of a late winner.

“I just think we didn’t play as well as a team with the ball as we should and as we can,” he said when asked about taking off Tottenham striker Kane, who has yet to score a Premier League goal this season.

“In the end we felt the need to try and refresh that, to give a different problem, to get some fresh legs into the game.

“I think with any of our forward players there’s always going to be a story if we take any of them off because understandably they’re big players.

“But we’ve got to have a team where we’re able to do that otherwise we’ll never progress.

“We felt that was the right thing at the time but I don’t think singling out any of the players tonight really serves any purpose because we were all responsible for the performance, really.”

Southgate also changed the system as “we wanted to try and get a spark”, but the move to wing-backs only succeeded in stifling Hungary’s counter-attacks rather than boosting the attack.

In all, it was an unsatisfactory display on a night when the attack-minded 4-3-3 starting line-up had looked exciting on paper.

“I think we’ve been playing 4-3-3 a lot but perhaps with different profile of number eights, so we wanted to look at something a little bit different,” Southgate added.

“We didn’t have Kalvin Phillips anyway, who has been such an essential part of that midfield, and we knew that we would have to break a packed defence down.

“So, in actual fact, I’m not certain that it was the profile of the players that was the issue in terms of not being able to break them down.

“But we just didn’t play with the same fluidity and individual level of performance that I think we’ve come to appreciate and come to expect, really. I think we have to be honest about that as a group.”

Jordan Henderson
Jordan Henderson has seen his playing time for England limited by injury (Nick Potts/PA)

Southgate also refused to rule out the possibility of Kane losing his place in the team moving forward.

“I think we’ve got competition for places in every position on the pitch,” he said.

“We need that because I remember when I first took over we didn’t have Harry for the first couple of camps and we haven’t had Jordan Henderson for a lot of camps and a lot of games so we do need that competition.

“There are going to be moments where different players are playing at their very best in different positions and there are going to be moments when there might be dips. Across the board as a team we have hit a really good level of performance.”

Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling has been off form in the Premier League this season (Nick Potts/PA)

Between them, Kane and Sterling have scored just one Premier League goal this season.

The pair have been the driving force in the England team in recent years, with Southgate insisting he saw nothing in training to suggest the duo are struggling for form.

“I didn’t get any sense from training this week that any of the guys were off the pace,” he added.

“So, I think all of us, players included, were surprised at the performance we’ve given.

“Sometimes you see things which concern you in training and I didn’t see that. I just think the game started with some poor quality moments, lost the possession of the ball cheaply.

“We were a little bit open to counter-attacks and we didn’t play with our usual composure and that’s something we have to go away and reflect on and resolve next month.”

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