Gareth Southgate standing next to Harry Kane after a night to forget Hungary | England
Gareth Southgate refused to criticize Harry Kane after replacing the striker during England’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Hungary at Wembley on Tuesday night.
England, who can secure qualification for 2022 world Cup Collecting four points from games against Albania and San Marino next month, he struggled for innovation against steadfast opponents and the focus was on Kane after his 15-game winning streak of consecutive playoffs ended.
The Tottenham striker, who has yet to score in the Premier League this season, has been out of reach since he failed to secure a move to Manchester City last summer and Southgate was forced to defend his captain after being replaced by Tammy Abraham in the 76th minute.
“I think tonight we did not play as well as a team as we should and can,” the England coach said. “Eventually we need to update that and get new legs in the game. With any of the front players, there’s always a story when we take them down.
“They are great players. We must have a team that is able to do that. We felt that was the right thing at the time. I don’t think it is fair to exclude any player because we are all responsible for that.”
England, who lead Poland by three points at the top of Group A, struggled to create chances despite Phil Foden and Mason Mount starting against Declan Rice in an attacking midfield.
Hungary went ahead thanks to an early penalty from Roland Sly, which John Stones canceled just before the break, and Southgate was concerned about the number of times his side caught the break.
Southgate echoed the changes in the second half, returning to three at the back after removing Kane, Raheem Sterling and a frustrated Jack Grealish. He felt his players had paid the price for a tense and sloppy start.
“I think we wanted to try and get a spark,” Southgate said. We have struggled to create many clear opportunities. We were hoping that would result in some freshness at the end of the game. We changed the system.
“We were open on the counter-attack and we had to build on that. We didn’t open them 4-3-3 so to try and have two No10s inside and two wing-backs we wanted to put them in a different problem. He stopped the counter-attack problem but we didn’t. We were able to get better.”
Southgate, who has said Rice has a lot to do in midfield, is under pressure to play in a more attacking midfield. “We played 4-3-3 a lot but with a different look than No. 8,” he said.
“We wanted to look at something different. We didn’t have Calvin Phillips anyway. We knew we were going to have to break a packed defense. In fact, I’m not sure that the players’ profile was the problem in terms of breaking them up. We just didn’t play as smooth and solo. For performance we value and expect.”