Southgate aware Slovenia no slouches

Manager also defends Rooney ahead of tricky tie after fans boo captain in Malta game

Goals from (from left) Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli gave interim England manager Gareth Southgate a debut victory, albeit against minnows Malta.
Goals from (from left) Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli gave interim England manager Gareth Southgate a debut victory, albeit against minnows Malta.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • First hurdle comfortably crossed on Saturday, now interim England manager Gareth Southgate can focus on a far tougher task coming up tomorrow.

A 2-0 victory over Malta - ranked 176th in the Fifa world rankings - may not count as a massive achievement, but it has at least extended the goodwill for the temporary England boss until they play tricky Slovenia tomorrow.

In fact, Southgate could even feel a little irritated that, despite completely outclassing their opponents, his team did not have the wit to make their second-half domination count with a hatful of goals.

England will go in search of a third Group F win in Slovenia and Southgate warned it will take time for his ideas to take root.

"Given the situation I picked up about 12 days ago, we've internally come a hell of a long way to get everything together," he said.

"I've seen teams having to work all pre-season to get new ideas across and we've had four days. So I've also got to be very realistic about what that might look like.

"All those things will come in time. But the players managed the game sensibly, albeit the crowd would have liked to have seen more goals. As would we. Tuesday will be a completely different challenge."

He was, however, bewildered after captain Wayne Rooney was booed by his own supporters during the win at Wembley.

Rooney, England's record scorer and most-capped outfield player, played in a midfield holding role and looked like a fish out of water for long spells as England ground out a laboured win through goals from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli.

There were boos when his name was read out prior to kick-off and again after he hoisted a shot over the crossbar late in the game.

"I don't understand it," said Southgate. "That seems to be the landscape. I've no idea how that's expected to help.

"It's fascinating to get an insight into his world over the last 10 days. Every debate seems to focus on him. The onus on him is enormous.

"The criticism of him is, at times, unfair. He ploughs on and plays with pride and captains his country with pride."

Jordan Henderson, who played alongside Rooney in midfield, conceded their partnership still needs work.

"I felt he had a good performance. He got on the ball and broke it up at times," Henderson said. "It was just making sure that we were communicating and making we weren't both getting ahead of the ball and leaving gaps in the middle."

Rooney was not alone in having to deal with jeers as there were boos for the whole team following a disjointed second half.

Henderson, who made both goals, admitted the fans' criticism was inevitable after England's embarrassing Euro 2016 exit against lowly Iceland.

"We've got to take the criticism and we deserve it. But I feel as though they know we are a good team and want us to do well," he said after crossing for club-mate Sturridge to head in the opener and then laying the foundations for Alli's strike with a run to the edge of the box. "It's up to us to put in good performances and win games."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Southgate aware Slovenia no slouches'. Print Edition | Subscribe