Southgate’s creative gamble doesn’t pay off against Hungary
Often criticised for being too cautious, England manager Gareth Southgate went for the crowd-pleasing option of playing his three most creative midfielders together yesterday morning (Singapore time), and saw the experiment fall flat in a 1-1 home draw against Hungary.
The result left England three points clear in Group I and still on course to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but they are now looking over their shoulder at Poland, with two games remaining against Albania and San Marino.
The performance is likely to have reinforced Southgate's view that the conservative approach that took England to the final of Euro 2020 is the way forward.
His attempt to shoehorn Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount into a first XI to supply forwards Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.
England fell behind to a 24th-minute Roland Sallai penalty and although John Stones levelled later in the first half, they were unable to take control or really threaten a second goal.
Grealish had looked clever and occasionally dangerous in the first half but Foden was unable to find the space and penetrative passing that made him so dangerous against Andorra in England's 5-0 win last Saturday and the "front five" seemed confused over their roles and relative positioning.
Asked about the formation, Southgate said: "I think we've got to go away and reflect. We shouldn't just judge things on one game in terms of that sort of experiment.
"It was difficult to find space and we took a while to work out where those spaces might be.
"But Hungary didn't allow time in midfield and we weren't sharp enough in our attacking play.
"I didn't see that coming from the game the other night or from the training sessions. We gave the ball away and were over-running things and weren't great with our pressure."
The game was marred by fighting in the Wembley stands between around 1,000 Hungary fans and baton-wielding police just after kick-off, with riot police entering the fray as visiting supporters forced stewards and police back down a tunnel.
Former sports secretary Oliver Dowden described the incidents as "deeply disturbing, adding: "There's clearly still an underlying problem with racism in football."
Hungary were ordered to play two home Fifa competition matches behind closed doors, one suspended for two years, following the racist behaviour during the reverse fixture with England in Budapest last month.
Uefa had already told Hungary to play two games behind closed doors following racist abuse from supporters and homophobic banners in the stands during Euro 2020 games in Budapest. - REUTERS, AFP