Gareth Southgate hit out at the media’s “ridiculous” treatment of Harry Maguire after the defender’s troubles continued when he scored an own goal during England’s 3-1 friendly victory over Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday night.
England’s grip on the 150th anniversary fixture against their old rivals was briefly thrown into doubt when Maguire’s moment of misfortune gave Scotland hope of mounting an unlikely comeback from 2-0 down during the second half. The Manchester United centre-back had come on as a substitute at half-time and soon heard his every touch being mocked by the home fans.
Maguire has fallen out of favour at United – he has not started a game for his club this season – and he looked rusty when he turned Andy Robertson’s cross into his own net. But while the error raised further questions over Maguire’s place as an England starter, Southgate’s anger was clear as praised the 30-year-old’s resilience and claimed that the discourse around him has become a joke.
“From a Scotland fan’s point of view I get it,” England’s head coach said. “I have no absolutely no complaints with what they did. It is a consequence of ridiculous treatment of him for a long period of time, frankly, and I think our fans recognised, ‘ok there might be a bit of heat from our own supporters but we are not going to have it from others getting into him.’ But it is a joke. I have never known a player to be treated the way he is. Not from the Scottish fans – by our own commentators, pundits, whatever it is, they have created something that is beyond anything I have ever seen.
“He has been an absolute stalwart for us in the second most successful English team for decades, he has been an absolutely key part of that. I have talked about the importance of our senior players, he has been crucial amongst that and every time he goes on the field the resilience he shows, the balls he shows is absolutely incredible so he is a top player and we are all with him. Our fans were brilliant with him tonight. I feel fairly strongly about it.”
Southgate, who has been loyal to Maguire, and had no concerns over the defender’s mental state. “He is good, he is great, we have had a good win and he was a big part of that,” he said. “He has fronted up as he always does which is enormous credit to his character.”
There are more threats to Maguire’s position as one of Southgate’s regulars, with Lewis Dunk and Marc Guéhi impressing after starting against Scotland. Guéhi, who also started against Ukraine last Saturday, went off with a slight knock at half-time.
However Southgate refused to get into whether Maguire’s own goal was a consequence of his lack of action for United. “It’s just unfortunate,” he said. “I’ve said enough on it. I have to also say I was really pleased with Lewis. I thought he had an excellent game. Marc’s had two really good games for us as well.”
Southgate said he would need to look back at Maguire’s part in the goal. He was happier talking about a fine display from England, who took control of the first half thanks to goals from Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden.
Bellingham, who would later produce a fine assist for Harry Kane to kill off Scotland’s challenge, was outstanding as a No 10. “He was excellent,” Southgate said. “We thought that position might cause a problem. We knew we needed athleticism there to press Scotland because their midfielders can dictate games if you allow them. But we felt we could create an overload and we felt his powerful running and, with Marcus Rashford in particular, that gave us a real outlet. It was a nice balance to the team.”