Gareth Southgate hits back at 'unusual environment' of England criticism after angry response from fans

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate took aim at the “unusual environment” of criticism towards the England side at Euro 2024, after cups appeared to be thrown in his direction by fans after another below-par performance.

England booked their place in the last-16 as winners of Group C despite an uninspiring display, one that left them vulnerable to a Denmark win over Serbia, which would have seen the Three Lions face Germany next.

Instead it will be one of the best third-placed sides on Sunday, likely to be the Netherlands, with England on the other side of the draw to the likes of Germany, France, Spain and Portugal.

That would ordinarily raise hopes of a deep run from England, but more pressing are questions over England’s misfiring attack and struggling midfield, even if Kobbie Mainoo did go some way to addressing the latter when introduced at half-time to replace Conor Gallagher.

Southgate, as well as Harry Kane and Declan Rice, batted away criticism of the team in the build-up to the Slovenia match, and the England boss was again forced to defend his side as he responded to the angry response from a section of fans as he went to applaud them after the game.

"I understand it, I'm not going to back away from it,” Southgate said.

“The most important thing here is the supporters stay with the team. I understand the narrative towards me. That's better for the team than it being towards them. But it's creating an unusual environment to operate in.

“I've not seen any other team qualify and receive similar. I understand it, I'm not going to back away from it but I'm very, very proud of the players for how they're operating within it."

On why he feels the environment is different than at previous tournaments, the England boss added: "Probably expectation. We’ve made England fun again and it’s been very, very enjoyable for the players. We’ve got to be careful that it stays that way."

England have produced three frustrating performances at Euro 2024 (Adam Davy/PA Wire)
England have produced three frustrating performances at Euro 2024 (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

England had a first-half goal disallowed after Phil Foden was offside in the build-up to Bukayo Saka tapping into an empty net, but there was otherwise little sign that the Three Lions were ready to justify their pre-tournament status as favourites.

There was, though, at least more of an effort to be more front-footed in pressing out of possession, and Southgate was adamant there were positives to take.

“I thought we were much-improved with the ball,” he said.

“We created some good openings. At the moment it’s hard work for us – we’re not quite getting that break in front of goal.

“The boys who came on had a really good impact on the game, and we had the discipline to keep a clean sheet, which had ended up meaning we won the group. I understand some reactions, but it’s a strange environment we’re play in.”

He added: “I don’t think we were ever going to go from where we were to winning 3-0 or 4-0. It’s not realistic in the intensity of the game that we had. But there were a lot of things I was pleased about.”

Southgate dismissed talk of England being in a favourable half of the draw, insisting the team will not be “seduced” by the prospect of avoiding the main tournament favourites until the final.

Positive cameos off the bench from Mainoo and Cole Palmer have left the England boss with decisions to make before this weekend’s last-16 clash, and Southgate was upbeat about the prospects of his side finally clicking into gear for that match.

“So many things are starting to come together,” he said.

“We had a lot of issues coming into the tournament. The likes of Marc Guehi and the way the defence has played has been a huge positive and something to build on.

“Today we looked more dangerous and we had a good impact from our subs. We’ve got to now just convert those chances.”