Gareth Southgate told disgruntled England fans to “stay with” his players ahead of this year’s World Cup – as he took responsibility for a 4-0 thrashing at home to Hungary.
Southgate’s side were well-beaten by Hungary at Molineux in their final match of a rotten Nations League run this month – with the visitors scoring three times in the second half at the expense of the collapsing England defence – who lost John Stones to a red card late on.
The England boss was greeted by boos and chants of, “you don’t know what you’re doing” by the Wolverhampton crowd.
Captain Harry Kane jumped to Southgate’s defence by saying the manager is “without a doubt” the right man to lead England, and while the Three Lions boss admitted that criticism hurt him – he defended his players.
“We picked a young team with energy and when the game started to go against them, it started to look that way. That’s my responsibility in the end,” Southgate told Channel 4.
“I said to the players, our four matches is my responsibility. I have to balance looking at new players, rest players. We couldn’t keep flogging out our experienced players.
“It was an important experience for lots of young players in these games. We’ve learned a lot in Germany and Italy games. Hungary are a good side and we knew that. I gave them too much to do tonight.
“I understand the reaction in the stadium, what I would say is that in these sets of fixtures, these players have been unbelievable for the country. They have to stay with them.
“Tonight was the sort of night that my predecessors have had. It’s important to stand. I’m not going to say it doesn’t hurt.”
Hungary’s victory was their first on English soil in nearly 70 years, while it was the Three Lions’ heaviest defeat at home since losing 6-1 to Scotland in 1928.
The result brings a difficult run of fixtures to an end, with England losing the return fixture in Budapest 1-0 to start their month’s competitive run, before drawing with Germany and Italy.
England scored just one goal from open play in those four games, with just 162 days and two more matches until they kick-off their World Cup campaign against Iran in mid-November.
“We’ve broken a huge number of records and tonight we’re on the other side of it,” Southgate added in his press conference.
“I don’t think it [the recent poor run] is painful – because we haven’t been at full strength. We need to be at full strength to win matches and we’ve seen that for several teams across Europe in the Nations League.
“Tonight’s a difficult night. I’ve watched as a kid and a player, and I recognise those difficult times. But you can’t just be at the front when things are good, and not stand up when things get tough.
“I knew the role before I took it. It’s happened in ten days, not eleven months. But I’ve seen other England managers go through that – the great Bobby Robson was, and look how he was judged in the end.
“Football is emotion, and if the flak comes my way, you have to expect that. You can’t be England manager and have the run I’ve had for the last five years without also having some tough times.”
Kane: Remember where England have come from
England captain Harry Kane echoed Southgate’s plea to the fans to stay with this team despite the poor results and growing criticisms.
“I understand their [the fans’] frustration, we want to win every time we put on an England shirt,” he said. “The crowd have to understand that. We have to keep working to have a successful World Cup.”
Meanwhile, the skipper was keen to move on from Tuesday night’s result at Molineux and reminded supporters to “remember where we have come from”.
“We’ve not had a camp like it for a long, long time. It’s time to keep our heads up and have a break now and then come back strong in September.
“It’s our first big defeat in a long, long time. The defence has been the structure of our success over the last few years. It’s a night to forget of course. We have to take it on the chin and move forward. We have to prepare for a big World Cup. That’s the most important thing. We have learned a lot from this camp.
“Let’s not forget where we’ve come from: our first final in 60 years [at Euro 2020 last summer], semi-final in the World Cup, compared to where we were in the last 50 years.”
Ferdinand: A disgraceful, worrying scoreline
Anton Ferdinand on Sky Sports News:
“It’s massively damaging for England. I think performances like that can take us as a nation to what we have been for years, with no togetherness when it comes to the team, the staff and the nation.
“Performances like that will bring them apart like they were for years. There’s no excuse to be losing 4-0 to Hungary at home. It’s a disgraceful scoreline, I can’t believe I’m saying it. What’s more worrying is the fans booing, the shouts at Southgate that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
“We need to be sensible as a nation, and as media outlets. Southgate is the most successful England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey. He knows what he’s doing. Are there problems at the moment? Yes, there are, but the facts are in tournaments that he knows what he’s doing.
“He’s got enough credit in the bank, allow him to galvanise this squad and do what he’s done since he came into the job, which is to bring the nation and team together and take us into the World Cup where I think we’ve still got a great chance of winning it.”