Gareth Southgate understands why traveling fans booed him full-time but were upbeat about England’s performance after a loss to Italy saw them suffer relegation from the Nations League.
Considered among the favorites to win the World Cup in Qatar, things went wrong for the Euro 2020 runners-up at the wrong time.
Nations League defeats to Hungary ended a miserable four-game streak in June, with the 1-0 defeat in Budapest followed by draws with Germany and behind closed doors with Italy.
Molineux’s 4-0 mayhem against the Magyars left them at a crossroads towards Milan, where Giacomo Raspadori secured the absentee Azzurri a 1-0 victory that condemned the Three Lions to relegation from the first division.
It was an embarrassing bump in the road just 59 days from their World Cup opener against Iran and led to some of the 4,415 traveling fans booing Southgate full time.
“Listen, really difficult to determine why we’re not scoring because I think we’re getting into the right areas,” the England manager said.
“We had the moments that we would have had in the past. We just didn’t deliver that last quality piece tonight.
“I understand the reaction at the end because those are the results we’ve had in this competition and, yes, it’s an understandable emotional reaction.”
England’s five-match winless streak is its longest since 2014 and means they were relegated with Monday’s Nations League home game against Germany.
“Well, hard for me to be overly critical of the performance,” Southgate said. “We had more possession, more shots, more shots on target. I think for the big games we played very well.
“We didn’t manage the decisive moment defensively and we had moments where we were lucky enough to be more decisive in their final third and our quality wasn’t quite good.
“It’s a time where, of course, results will be the thing that everyone reacts to, but I thought there were a lot of positive signs for us as a team tonight.
“I think there were a lot of good individual performances. Personally, I think the performance is a step in the right direction.
“But I fully understand, because of the result, it won’t be the outside reaction.”
In truth, it was a lukewarm response from England to June and an alarming penultimate game before the World Cup given the side looked toothless in attack and shaky at the back.
“We said we’re not in an ideal situation in terms of having players playing consistently at a high level,” Southgate said. “But we have to keep working and we have to make sure we stay on track.
“There will be a huge amount of noise, of course, but it was created from the summer, really, and I completely understand that.
“The players in the dressing room know it was a game they could have won and if they take a chance and defend the goal better, we win. It’s nice margins.
“We are playing against some of the biggest nations in football and the nice margins are decisive.”
Italy will not take part in the World Cup this winter and coach Roberto Mancini was delighted with his team’s victory on Friday evening.
“We beat England, which is one of the strongest national teams in the world,” he said. “The game system doesn’t matter.
“What matters is a team’s personality, the desire to attack and stay high – and we were very good at that. The win was deserved.”