If Gareth Southgate were to reflect on the final stage of the 2 part interview that was Scotland and Spain at Wembley, he’d probably be happy to come out of both games undefeated. A 3-0 win against the “auld enemy” and a 2-2 draw with Spain aren’t the worst results. In fact the 3-0 victory over Scotland was England’s biggest in 41 years. So it’s safe to assume that Southgate has passed the audition for the permanent role of England manager. But despite the successful audition, will he be the one to finally bring international glory back to these shores for the first time in over 50 years.
The first half was mundane, although England were leading the game 1-0, they were hardly clicking into gear once again suffering from the inability to string consistent moves together. Looking like players who have never met each other before. While Daniel Sturridge, whose selection was criticised as he’s coming off the bench for Liverpool, and is yet to score in the Premiership this season, took his chance with his strong header from Kyle Walker’s cross.
However the Scots had their chances in the first half, and Grant Hanley will rue heading over the bar 3 minutes after England’s opener. England looked the much better side in the 2nd half, with Southgate later stated that frank words were exchanged between the players at half time, and after Robert Snodgrass missed another chance for Scotland, Adam Lallana added England’s second, and the second header of the evening. Before Gary Cahill wrapped it up 10 minutes later with England’s third header of the evening.
The result left England top of Group F, 2 points clear of Slovenia.
The lethargy which initially seemed to infect England at the start of both periods here was troubling in a fixture, traditionally thunderously frantic, which is supposed to get the juices flowing. There was a carelessness in possession which had Southgate fidgeting uncomfortably on the side-lines, with Wayne Rooney and John Stones, Lallana and Eric Dier all culpable of dawdling on the ball or placing passes beyond team-mates. Raheem Sterling did offer England some forward movement to draw the focus and shrug the hosts awake, but a management staff so desperate to implement an easily recognisable, progressive style will have been unimpressed by this fare for long periods. Southgate will recognise that his team’s development remains very much a work in progress.
Yet, for all the visitors’ endeavour, the flashes of quality that yielded reward were all English. Sterling, his remarkable miss aside, was bright and energetic, more the player who has thrived under Pep Guardiola than sank without trace under Roy Hodgson. Lallana is at the peak of his powers, inventive and incisive, and now boasts goals in successive England matches. Sturridge’s opener was superbly taken, while Danny Rose’s drives down the left consistently wounded the Scots. In the passages of play when England clicked, they exposed these opponents for what they are. Underwhelming on the international stage, with a dreadful future in front of them.
The England vs Spain game was always considered the toughest test of the 4 game audition for Southgate, although only a friendly this would be by far the stylish opposition that Southgate’s England would face. England had only won once in their last 6 games with Spain, and a victory against the Spanish would surely confirm Southgate as the next manager. However England blew a 2-0 lead in the final 5 minutes to end a sour year, with a bad taste in the mouth.
Goals from Adam Lallana and Jamie Vardy gave England a 2-0 lead but Iago Aspas, with two minutes remaining, and Isco in the fifth minute of injury time denied Gareth Southgate a victory in the fourth and final game of his initial caretaker spell in charge. After chasing shadows for the first seven minutes, England took the lead in the eighth. Two Liverpool players, Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne, combined to win the ball on the right flank before the former curled a sensational ball around the back of the Spanish defence, Jamie Vardy slightly miscontrolled the ball but took it past Pepe Reina and then tumbled over the goalkeeper’s torso. Lallana stepped up and launched the penalty into the top corner to make it three goals in three England games for Lallana, after scoring none in his first 26.
The lead was doubled not long after the break as Vardy broke his 14-game scoring drought for club and country, thumping a header past a grasping Reina from a nicely clipped Jordan Henderson cross.
Spain gradually crept back into the game, advancing further and further until they broke through. In 88th minute, substitute Iago Aspas spanked home a terrific equaliser, a brilliant left-footed shot into the top corner, before Isco found space in the box in the closing seconds and slotted the leveller between substitute keeper Tom Heaton’s legs.
On the touchline, Southgate looked as if he’d lost more than simply a friendly victory.
Southgate was bullish in the post-match press conference, as he summed up the last 4 games as “interim manager”
“Until this run, under this spotlight, and in matches under intense pressure, you’re never sure how it is going to be, I’ve proved that I can handle big occasions.”
The collapse against Spain should serve as a warning to Southgate that this job won’t be easy, and compliancy won’t be tolerated. Especially by the England fans, who booed the result at full-time. A win against Spain, would have been a nice final piece of decoration on Southgate’s CV. But in reality this friendly was never going to amount to much in the FA’s calculations, they will no-doubt see this as England not losing, as opposed to throwing away a 2-0 lead in the final 5 minutes of the game.
Southgate has enjoyed the role, and has looked comfortable in it and appears to have the respect of the players, he is also the first England manager to have played for his country since Kevin Keegan in 2000. He is also steeped in the FA’s ways from his time at St George’s Park and in charge of England’s Under-21s.
He has carried himself with maturity, says himself he has lived comfortably with the pressure, and proved he will make the big calls by dropping Wayne Rooney in Slovenia.
Yes, he is helped by a lack of serious, compelling alternatives who would catch the FA’s eye. Arsene Wenger has been mooted as the other candidate for the job, but there is no guarantee that Wenger would take that job. So it would appear that it is indeed Southgate for England