Gareth Southgate understood why England fans showed their frustrations during his side’s unconvincing win in Malta, but pointed out that “free-flowing champagne football” is scarcely associated with qualifiers.
World Cup qualification is firmly in the Three Lions’ hands after a 4-0 win at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium, which kept their two-point gap at the top of Group F intact ahead of Monday’s crunch clash with second-placed Slovakia.
Harry Kane’s second-half goal was followed by a late flurry of goals as Ryan Bertrand and Danny Welbeck scored before the Tottenham striker completed a flattering 4-0 win against Malta, who made life particularly tough for the visitors during a goalless first half.
England’s lack of inspiration and verve led many of the 3,700 travelling fans to chant “we’re f—– s—”, before a roar of boos rang out at the half-time whistle.
“Look, I think we have to accept that,” head coach Southgate said of that disquiet.
“I’ve played in nights like this and I’ve watched England on nights like this, and if you don’t get a couple of early goals the atmosphere can turn.
“But that’s part of wearing the shirt, we’ve got to be able to deal with that.
“We spoke before the game that if Germany were playing here, we’d probably look at the score and see 4-0 or something like that and think they’ve done a professional job.
“In the end, that’s what we’ve done in the end. It has taken a while to get the goals, but that’s a consequence of dominating the game, over 70 percent possession.
“Yeah, you’d like to open them up a bit more, but there isn’t space to play against them, they’re 5-4-1, there’s very little space to play.
“When we got the ball into the areas that we’d worked on during the week, we managed to do that.
“I understand all of the reaction that we’ll get, but we have to stay focused as a group and Monday’s game will be completely different.”
“From our point of view, we have to focus on sticking to the plan, staying calm.
“I understand why [it happened] and I understand if we don’t score until late, the game feels different for everybody.
“But I’ve played in so many qualifiers and watched so many qualifiers, and I don’t remember many of them being free-flowing champagne football. It just hasn’t happened, especially when there’s no space to play.
“You have got to work your way into the opportunities.
“I’m a really pleased with what the players have done because they’ve kept their focus, kept calm, they haven’t taken on ridiculous shots from outside the box, which I have seen us do, which relieves the pressure.
“In the end, the build-up of pressure opposition mounts and you get your goals.”