Southgate: 'I'm not going to hammer them after they've done such a brilliant job'
Gareth Southgate reacts to England's victory against Malta at Wembley Stadium
Gareth Southgate acknowledged his England side ‘didn’t get going’ against Malta on Friday night but said he was ‘not going to hammer’ his team after the Three Lions extended their unbeaten run in 2023 to nine matches.
Southgate recognised the Three Lions’ performance against Malta was below the high standards they have set themselves, with the two wayward efforts in the opening period the first time England have failed to record a shot on target since a friendly against Germany in 2017.
But England have now won eight of their nine matches so far this year and are unbeaten in their last 20 matches at Wembley Stadium connected by EE.
And Southgate said: "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.
"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.”
It was a moment of quality from Phil Foden which created the opening goal as his touch, run and cut-back led to Malta defender Enrico Pepe turning the ball into his own net after eight minutes.
The Three Lions struggled to create much of note after that though, despite a lot of possession, before the half-time arrivals of Kyle Walker and Bukayo Saka, then the introduction of Declan Rice and debutant Cole Palmer on the hour, helped provide more impetus in attack.
Captain Harry Kane then made sure of the win with a quarter of an hour remaining before Rice had a classy third goal ruled out for offside moments later.
One of the talking points in England’s starting line-up was the selection of Trent Alexander-Arnold in the centre of midfield and Southgate was asked about his performance in his post-match interview.
Southgate said: "I thought he used the ball really well. He has got outstanding quality. He and Phil were the two in the first half that looked like opening the game up for us and used the ball well.
"I thought Marc Guéhi was very good at the back and it is good he got another game under his belt – I thought he looked very calm.
“The changes [in the second half] brought more quality as well so in the second half we could have scored more.
“But Malta don't really lose by fives and sixes and are more twos, threes and fours because they get a lot of men back. [But] we obviously didn't create as many chances as we'd like to."
Match Centre: England v Malta