England 2-0 Malta: Gareth Southgate left frustrated by performance at Wembley in Euro 2024 qualifier

Harry Kane

Manager Gareth Southgate said his England side are “not where we need to be” after Friday’s 2-0 win over Malta – but refused to criticise the players because of the gruelling schedule.

But Southgate’s team, who had already qualified for next summer’s tournament, produced an underwhelming performance.

“We didn’t hit the heights we have done this calendar year,” said Southgate.

England have won six of their seven games to top Group C, but were lacklustre against a Malta side that has lost all eight qualifiers.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Southgate added: “If you don’t start games well it’s very difficult to pick it up and we didn’t. We know the level we’ve got should be better, can be better.

“Those games that you know you can win at a canter, the number of games these players are playing, it’s almost a self-regulation.

“So not enough quality on the ball, and not enough chances created, but I have been a player and I know exactly how those games feel.

“Clearly it’s possible we could have had three or four with the decisions as well, but we didn’t create enough clear chances to deserve that anyway.”

Captain Kane thought he had earned a penalty in the first half but was instead booked for diving. He did finish off a fine team move in the 75th minute in one of the best moments of a disappointing match to extend his record England goal tally.

“It was not our finest performance, but sometimes you play a team who have got more quality than people think,” Kane told 5 Live.

“At the start, we missed the right tempo. We were sloppy and couldn’t quite build. In the second half we had more control and created chances. But overall it’s a 2-0 win.

“We’re playing a lot of games at the moment. We have some injuries and the players coming in have to perform.

“All the players who started weren’t at their usual standard but that’s football. We maybe felt mental fatigue a little bit. We are top and have one game – hopefully we finish with a win.”

England had qualified with two games to spare and need just a point from Monday’s match against North Macedonia to guarantee a seeded position for Euro 2024.

But, with Pepe having deflected in a Phil Foden cross for the opener, they failed to have a shot on target in the opening hour against Malta, who are ranked 171st in the world and 167 places below England.

Asked if fans should be concerned, Southgate replied: “We’ve asked people to fill roles that aren’t their usual position, like Fikayo [Tomori], and it’s not easy for him to build down that side.

“We’ve got problems with availability in that area [left-back] and you are trying to give some players a rest. We have a lot of players that weren’t in there.

“I thought Trent [Alexander-Arnold], Phil [Foden] and Marc Guehi were good and Cole Palmer coming on for his debut had a good impact. There are positives, but we know we were not where we want to be and can be.”

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