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Gareth Southgate justified substituting Harry Kane during England’s uninspired goalless draw with Scotland by saying that removing his captain gave his team more energy up front.
England’s manager was left with concerns over Kane’s form after his side, who have four points from their first two games in Group D, walked off to jeers at Wembley on Friday night. The striker was poor again after struggling in last Sunday’s win over Croatia and Southgate, who had no complaints about the boos that greeted the full-time whistle, felt that bringing on Marcus Rashford would cause Scotland’s defence more problems.
“I felt we needed a few more runs in behind and that Marcus would give us that energy,” Southgate said. “We have to base these decisions on what we see. We’ve got to be better and that starts with me. We didn’t have enough attempts at goal and we need to look at that over the next few days.
“It was really difficult to find space tonight. Scotland defended really well and we weren’t able to open them up. I think I know exactly where this team is – it’s a very young team and some of them won’t have experienced a night with that intensity and pressure. They will have learned from that.”
Graeme Souness led the criticism of England's display in the 0-0 draw with Scotland. "Football ain't coming home with that, not the way they are playing," Souness said on ITV. "Harry Kane not performing is a major problem. If [he is not scoring] in this competition, you're not going very far. He came off in the first game, is he carrying something? He looks a shadow of himself."
Ian Wright questioned Southgate's substitutions, in particular the decision to take off Phil Foden. "There is no way Foden should be leaving the pitch today, for me. It's very disappointing to see." Wright also called for Jadon Sancho to be given a chance to play, adding: "we're meant to be favourites to win this tournament and I was embarrassed for us today."
Fellow pundit Roy Keane echoed Souness's thoughts on Kane. "If England really want to compete in this competition, you need your star men to perform. "We have seen Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne turned up, Cristiano Ronaldo, they need Kane at his best. I am glad Gareth [Southgate] took him off. There is this talk about he is undroppable, he's the main man. If he is not performing you get him off."
"It was a really poor performance, a massive disappointment," said the former England defender Gary Neville. "Is it too big for them in terms of expectation? A few of those lads, it's probably the biggest game they've played in. That was such a lacklustre display."
The former Scotland captain Scott Brown praised the visitors' display. "Scotland worked hard for each other as a proper team and they frustrated England," Brown said. "That was due to Steve Clarke's formation, he got his tactics spot on."
Kane, who was also substituted against Croatia, admitted that he could not grumble about being replaced in the 74th minute. “It’s part of the game,” he told ITV. “The manager felt that was the right decision so you just have to take it. It is what it is.”
England’s performance did little raise to confidence about their chances of winning Euro 2020. They are second in the group and need to beat the Czech Republic on Tuesday to ensure that they qualify for the last 16 in first place.
Southgate’s side will need to improve when they face the Czechs, who are above them on goal difference. England created little against Scotland, who have hope of reaching the last 16 before facing Croatia, and Southgate was forced to defend his approach.
“I would say we had a fourth attacking player in [Mason] Mount throughout the whole game,” he said. “If we had to chase to win with no consequence for conceding you might approach it differently but it was a night where it was a bit frantic, there was not a huge amount of control. It’s easy to gamble towards the end, lose the game and you’re kicking yourself for not managing the tournament.
“I think we could’ve been more decisive but Scotland defended those areas well. We know we didn’t hit the level we wanted to or needed to but we have to accept whatever comes our way. I totally understand that as the manager. What we need to do is make sure we get behind the players. The young players need the support of everybody. They’ll bounce back from it but they need everyone behind them.”
Southgate did not take issue with the reaction from the crowd. “Our fans are entitled to react however they want,” he said. “We’re disappointed with our own performance. We’re expected to beat Scotland.”
Scotland impressed, with Billy Gilmour superb in midfield, and recovered well after losing to the Czechs in their opening game. “I’m proud of the players and pleased for them because they got criticised a little too much after the result against the Czech Republic,” Steve Clarke said.
“We’ve been improving for a long time. The motivating factor was to get something out of the game to give ourselves a chance going into the last game to qualify. We played well.” Clarke was delighted with Gilmour, who ran midfield after finding out that he was starting when Scotland were travelling to Wembley. “I don’t think there’s any element of risk when you have a player of Billy’s talent,” Scotland’s manager said. “I think you’ve got to look at the team performance as well. There were a lot of good performances.”