England manager, Gareth Southgate has refused to “hammer” his squad after a sluggish win over Malta.
Enrico Pepe’s own-goal and Harry Kane’s close-range strike proved enough for England to edge past Malta in their final home qualifier for UEFA Euro 2024, having already secured their qualification last month against Italy.
The Three Lions’ performance though was below par with Southgate not surprised at the result, as he explained: “It was a game where we didn’t start well and I have been in football for a long time and know that if you don’t start well then it’s hard to pick the game up.
“We got a goal out of nothing really but the quality on the ball is not normally at that level and it was one of those days where the players knew they could win the game at a canter and we didn’t really extend ourselves as much as we normally would.”
Southgate though refused to criticise his players given their workload so far this season for club and country, as he added: “They are playing so many matches and have done such a brilliant job, so I am not going to hammer them for that.
“We know we should have been better than we were but it was one of those days where we didn’t really get going.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Phil Foden however were singled out by Southgate for their individual performances, which saw the pair produce “outstanding quality” especially in the first half to create opportunities to attack in a tepid display.
Southgate also acknowledged Marc Guehi for his “very calm” performance but felt that the team as a whole “didn’t create as many chances” as is expected, even despite Bukayo Saka adding extra quality as a second-half substitute and provided the assist for Kane’s goal.