Gareth Southgate’s England saw off Malta 2-0 (John Walton/PA)
Gareth Southgate said England’s players fell short of the standards they “need to be at” against Malta but had no concerns about their attitude and aptitude ahead of next summer’s European Championship.
Nobody at Wembley expected anything other than a victory from the side ranked fourth in the world against the one nestled between Fiji and Bermuda in 171st.
But already-qualified England made hard work of a straightforward Group C qualifying assignment on Friday, with Enrico Pepe’s own goal giving the hosts a lead in a first half in which they failed to muster a single shot on target.
Harry Kane added another after a rare moment of quality interplay in the second half as Southgate’s side limped to a 2-0 victory that all but assures their place among the top seeds at next month’s Euro 2024 draw.
“We didn’t start the game well,” the England boss said. “I’ve been in football for 35 years and if you don’t start well, it’s really difficult to pick it up.
“We needed, of course, to show better quality with the ball but also we were a bit stretched without it and a little bit disjointed in our pressing at times.
“We were not the level we would want to be at. We were not the level that we need to be at.
“But, equally, this group of players have been exceptional and I’m not going to start getting into their ribs too much about a performance like tonight.
“We made a few changes, we didn’t hit the levels we would have liked to have but they managed to win the game.
“Not in the style we’d have liked for the supporters but, in the end, we’ve won comfortably, as we should.”
England now head onto Skopje to complete their Euro 2024 qualification campaign against North MacedoniaRead on belfasttelegraph.co.uk