Gareth Southgate defended his cautious approach to England’s 0-0 draw with Scotland despite “not hitting the levels we need to” in a poor performance at Wembley.
Southgate used only two of his five substitutions during a game in which England managed only one shot on target throughout and were outplayed by their visitors, who are the third-lowest ranked side at Euro 2020.
England stuck with their original shape while bringing on like-for-like replacements for Harry Kane and Phil Foden in Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish, as they moved onto four points from their opening two games, which will likely guarantee qualification from Group D.
But after England were booed off by a section of the home support after one of their poorest competitive performances of his reign, Southgate said he would accept any criticism aimed at his decisions as his side missed the chance to secure their place in the last-16.
He said: “It feels difficult in the last 15 minutes of a game like tonight where fans are desperate for you to go forward and abandon shape, because it’s Scotland, it feels like a unique occasion, but we have to still approach it that a point is still an important step towards qualification, which ultimately is the first objective for us.
“I think in those moments, if we had to chase to win with no consequence for conceding, you might approach it differently; but all the time, it’s a night where it was a bit frantic, it wasn’t a game with a huge amount of control, and you have to make sure that sitting on three points as we were, you manage the tournament as well as the game.
“It’s easy to gamble towards the end, and lose shape, and then end up losing the game in the last five minutes, then you’re kicking yourself for not managing the tournament. I understand we’re at Wembley, we wanted to win, but in the context of the tournament qualification is the most important thing.
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“It’s a game where we didn’t hit the levels we wanted to, or need to, and have to accept whatever comes our way, I’ll have to accept whatever comes my way, I totally understand that, but what we need to do is make sure we get behind the players.
“There’s a lot of young players who need the support of everybody – most of them haven’t been involved in a game like that before, they’ll learn a lot and bounce back from it, but they need everybody behind them.”
Clarke: You wouldn’t have known who was favourite
Steve Clarke made four changes from a poor opening defeat to the Czech Republic and was vindicated by a performance matched by the quality of football produced at times by his side.
Speaking to ITV after the game, he said: “It was a good night, we played well. We were unfairly criticised after the game on Monday; I know I have a good group of players and they showed that tonight, so I’m delighted for my players and staff.
“We had chances to win, England had moments as well, but looking at this you wouldn’t have known which is the favourite which is a credit to us. The most pleasing thing was we played when we had the ball and created a number of chances.”
Billy Gilmour was given his first Scotland start for the Wembley showdown and rewarded his manager by picking up the man of the match award, although Clarke felt Stephen O’Donnell had shaded the 20-year-old Chelsea midfielder on the night.
He said: “Stephen O’Donnell was exceptional, and Billy was just behind him. It was nice for him to get that start, a big platform, a big player, Billy.
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“I’ve said for a long time he’ll be a big part of the future of Scottish football; we know what we’ve got in the camp, we’ll try to manage that and keep a lid on things. Performances like that will do him no harm whatsoever.
“Getting Kieran [Tierney] back into the three and Scott [McTominay] gives us the platform to build from the back. Billy and Callum are both good footballers, we knew coming here we couldn’t just sit and defend for 95 minutes, we knew when we had the ball, we had to take care of it and try to create our own chances. That’s what we managed to do.”
Kane: ‘We weren’t at our best’, Robertson: ‘We deserved more’
England captain Harry Kane put a brave face on his country’s performance despite being substituted himself after a poor personal showing in attack, while opposite number Andy Robertson, one of Scotland’s star performers, said the Tartan Army had deserved maximum points at Wembley.
Kane told ITV: “A draw was probably a fair result. Fair play to Scotland, they defended really well, created a few chances themselves. It wasn’t our best result, but it’s another point closer to qualification.
“We’ve got to dust ourselves and look forward to another game in a few days. It’s part of the game [to be subbed]. The manager will make decisions, and if he thinks it’s right he’s got to do it. It is what it is, and we’ve got another big game in a few days, we’ve got to recover well and get ready for that.
“I think it was just a tough game. They defended really well, made great blocks at the right time, and that’s football. It’s the Euros, no game is going to be easy. They’re playing for their lives and we saw that today.”
Robertson was another to single out Gilmour’s performance and suggested losing at Wembley would have ended their hopes of progression, with a win against Croatia on Tuesday now probably enough to see them into the last-16.
He added: “I think we did [deserve to win], I don’t think many people can argue that. we had the big chances, at times we kept the ball superbly well, frustrated England and on another night could have come away with more.
“We’ll take a point, it keeps us alive. But it’s important we use the feeling, the feeling, the fans being happy with us going into Tuesday and try to use it to get a positive result to get out of the group.
“I’d put Gilmour’s performance right up there, right up there. I spoke to him in the hotel earlier and looked at him, and to be fair to Billy nothing phases him. I believe he can have as many caps as he wants for Scotland. He’s got a big future, but the here and now’s pretty good for him too.”
Scotland are back at Hampden Park for their final group game against Croatia on Tuesday. England take on the Czech Republic at Wembley on the same day. Both games kick-off at 8pm.
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