VALLETTA (Malta) • Gareth Southgate praised his players for remaining patient and showing "real courage" after sections of England's travelling support turned on the team before they left it late to overwhelm Malta 4-0 in their World Cup qualifier on Friday.
England's lead was only 1-0 until four minutes from the end when Ryan Bertrand doubled it, with Southgate's team scoring twice more in stoppage time through Danny Welbeck and Harry Kane to give the scoreline a more emphatic feel.
Yet many of the 3,700 visiting fans had made clear their dissatisfaction during a goalless and sterile first-half display, and plenty more had vacated their seats in the north stand of the arena and departed long before the final whistle.
"I've played in matches like this and if you don't get a couple of early goals, the atmosphere can turn," England manager Southgate said.
"When that opening goal doesn't come playing against a packed defence, you've got to show some real courage and stick to the game plan, be patient and wait for your opportunities.
"If you keep the ball as we did, moving the opposition, it generally comes off.
"It took a while to get the goals but we dominated the game, and we had over 70 per cent of the possession.
Minutes - how long it took England to score twice against Malta.
"I've seen it happen (fans turning on the team). From our point of view, we have to stay calm.
"I've played in so many qualifiers and watched many qualifiers, and I don't remember many being free-flowing champagne football."
Even at 1-0 up, with Kane striking eight minutes after the break, England fans remained singularly unimpressed.
When a pitch invader sprinted on and accelerated smoothly away from two Maltese policemen, the England fans chanted, "Sign him up".
There was sustained frustration at England's repeated failure to escape from local clutches until that late spree.
Part of the problem lay in Southgate's tactics, mainly fielding two holding midfield players in Jordan Henderson and particularly Jake Livermore, who gave the ball away on three occasions.
He was not alone. England's final ball was poor, a recurring theme in recent regimes.
Southgate's decision to start two orthodox stoppers at centre-back, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones, rather than inserting a defender who could bring the ball out like John Stones, also felt overly cautious.
Kane, however, defended the 46-year-old's tactics.
"Whenever you come away to games like this, it's never going to be easy from the start. But we knew we had to keep moving it, and that the spaces would open and the chances would come," said the Tottenham Hotspur striker, who has notched five goals under Southgate's stewardship.
"The manager makes his (tactical) choices and puts the team out in a way he thinks is going to be best to win the game.
"We won 4-0 so he did the job right."
Despite the unconvincing result, England remain on course to qualify for next year's World Cup in Russia.
They are two points clear of Slovakia at the top of Group F ahead of tomorrow's clash at Wembley.
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON