Judge England on major tournament results urges Gareth Southgate after Hungary debacle in Nations League

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Judge England on major tournament results urges Gareth Southgate after Hungary debacle in Nations League
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Gareth Southgate says his England side deserve to be judged on their performance at major tournaments and not last night’s debacle of a defeat to Hungary.

Harry Kane urged fans to “remember where we have come from”, as some rounded on the manager who has guided the nation to a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final, with chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” heard ringing loudly around Molineux, as England collapsed to a 4-0 hammering in their last match before the summer break.

There were even calls for Southgate to resign, with just five months and two matches left before England start their World Cup campaign in Qatar.

There is no chance of the 51-year-old, who retains the FA’s full backing after signing a new contract until 2024 last year, walking away, but after a run of four Nations League games without a win, during which the Three Lions scored just one goal, he is under more pressure than at any time during his near six-year reign.

“Tonight’s a difficult night,” Southgate said. “My predecessors have had nights like this and I’ve watched from the sofa as a kid and watched as a player and I recognise those difficult times. But you can’t just be at the front when things are going well and not stand up when you’re having difficult experiences. That’s part of football, that’s part of life.

“I’ve got to accept that the next period is going to be unpleasant and uncomfortable, but that’s life as a football manager. You’re never going to have six years like we’ve had and not have difficult nights.”

The toxic atmosphere at full-time at Molineux, when England were booed by those who had not made an early exit during Hungary’s late flurry of three breakaway goals in the final 20 minutes, could not have been in starker contrast to the adulation Southgate experienced last summer and during the 2018 World Cup.

The Three Lions boss has shuffled his pack during this international round of Nations League fixtures, trying to both manage the minutes of players at the end of a long season and experiment ahead of Qatar.

But he admitted afterwards he had “got the balance wrong” and said the experience would remind his young stars that “playing for England isn’t just a bed of roses with great results and happy feelings”.

“It’s not pleasant,” Southgate added, when asked about the fan response. “The irony is that the pressure we’ve had and the reputational comments have come in the two Nations League campaigns — and in neither campaign have we been anywhere near able to pick our strongest teams.

“The matches where every other England manager has been judged, we’ve had our best performances in 50 years. There’s a balance in my head and I’m really clear, but I totally understand the response tonight. I can’t dress up what’s happened in any way, shape or form, but if we’re judged on the matches with our full-strength players, I think it’s a different assessment.”

Gareth Southgate oversaw England’s worst home loss for 94 years against Hungary at Molineux (The FA via Getty Images)
Gareth Southgate oversaw England’s worst home loss for 94 years against Hungary at Molineux (The FA via Getty Images)

Last night’s defeat, which Southgate described as “chastening”, was perhaps England’s worst since they were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland, a result that prompted Roy Hodgson’s departure.

Kane is one of only four players in the current squad to have experienced England’s last major tournament match of the pre-Southgate era and backed his manager’s call for perspective. “It’s the first low point we’ve had in probably five years,” Kane said. “We can’t panic, we can’t get ahead of ourselves.

“The bigger picture’s what we’re preparing for, which is a World Cup. We’ve had two fantastic major tournaments in a row.”

When asked specifically about concerns over Southgate’s future, he added: “It’s a really disappointing question to be asked, if I’m totally honest.

“Let’s not forget where we’ve come from, where we were last summer. I understand the fans are frustrated but Gareth’s been a key part in transforming this England team into one of the most successful teams we’ve had in the past 50 years. Let’s not get carried away.”

Despite a deflating fortnight, Southgate insists his confidence is unshaken ahead of the World Cup. “We’ve always said we’re one of a group of teams that can be pushing in the winter and I don’t think that’s any different,” he said. “Other big teams have had difficult periods in this competition.”

England play Italy and Germany in their final two Nations League fixtures in September.

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