Gareth Southgate understands England fans’ frustration after the drab goalless draw with Scotland but said “managing the tournament” at Euro 2020 was key on Friday.
While the Tartan Army celebrated wildly after giving their last-16 hopes a boost, a number of unsatisfied Three Lions supporters booed at the final whistle at Wembley.
Five days on from kicking off Group D with a 1-0 win against Croatia, England created precious little after John Stones’ header hit the woodwork early in the 0-0 stalemate with Scotland.
It was a deflating night but the result leaves Southgate’s side second heading into Tuesday’s final match against the Czech Republic and on the cusp of qualification thanks to their four-point haul.
“In the end, not enough to win but this is a tournament and it’s critical when you can’t win not to lose,” the England manager said.
“That of course feels difficult in the last 15 minute of a game like tonight where fans are desperate for you to go forward and abandon all shape because of course it’s Scotland, it feels like a unique occasion.
“But we have to still approach it in the context that a point is still an important step towards qualification and ultimately qualification is the first objective for us.”
Southgate said 0-0 was “probably a fair scoreline” on the balance of a game in which they may have been below par but that was not going to see him throw caution to the wind.
“I think in those moments if we had to chase to win with no consequence for conceding, then you might approach it differently or if we were behind in the game and we were chasing,” he said of his substitutions.
“But it was a night where it was a bit frantic, it wasn’t a game where there was a huge amount of control and you’ve got to make sure that, sitting on three points as we did, we manage the tournament as well as the game.
“It’s easy to gamble towards the end and lose shape and then end up losing the game in the last five minutes and then you’re kicking yourself for not managing the tournament.
“I understand we’re at Wembley, it’s a game against Scotland where everybody wants us to win.
“We wanted to win but it is in the context of a tournament and qualification is the first and most important thing.”
But Southgate’s approach irked some of the 20,306 inside Wembley, with the decision to take off Phil Foden jeered before the hopeful home crowd let their feelings known at full-time.
“This was always something I knew we were going to have to deal with, that was going to be a challenging experience for the players,” Southgate said of the expectation.
“I said before, just because you’re at home doesn’t mean that you win. You have to win.
“On Sunday we played well and we got the result we deserved. Tonight we didn’t play as well but we have to accept that. I accept that as the manager.
“We learn from the experience and we have a different sort of challenge now against the Czechs.”
The England boss certainly has plenty to mull over in the coming days, with the ineffective attacking display spearheaded by Harry Kane among the main talking points.
Southgate was quick to point to the collective as the focus turns to ending Group D on a high against the Czech Republic, knowing victory will see them through as pool winners.
“We know where we sit in the group,” he added. “We know we have a lot of work to do to improve our performances.
“But also we know in the context of qualification that four points from two matches, we’re in a strong position so we have to make sure we get the third game right and make the right decisions around that.
“Of course there’s always fallout from any England performance that isn’t at the level you want or doesn’t get the result you want.
“But we are in the middle of a tournament, we are in the middle of a qualification group.
“We totally understand the reaction tonight but our first objective is to qualify and we’re still on track to do that.”
ITV’s coverage of the game peaked with 20 million viewers, becoming the most-watched match of Euro 2020 so far and setting a new broadcaster streaming record with 4.8m streams across ITV Hub and STV Player.