Commentary

Southgate's audition for England job suffers Slovenian setback

By Mike Woitalla

After Sam Allardyce's fall from grace, the English FA granted Gareth Southgate a four-game stint as interim coach of England. How’s his audition going after two games?

Southgate’s first game was a 2-0 win at home over Malta, a team winless in its last 13 games, since it beat Lithuania.

“There was nothing in the scoreline to seduce anyone, nothing in a hum-drum second-half performance to set the pulse racing against Maltese opponents, who regarded a 2-0 defeat as a victory,” wrote Paul Joyce of the Express.

Three days later, England traveled to Slovenia. Southgate, who kept captain Wayne Rooney on the bench until the 73rd minute, watched his squad eke out a 0-0 tie thanks to some big saves by goalkeeper Joe Hart. Rooney’s replacement, Eric Dier, nearly handed Slovenia an early goal when his backpass was intercepted by Roman Bezjak, but Hart, the goat of Euro 2016, came to the rescue.

England’s three shots on goal marked its lowest in a competitive game since its scoreless tie with Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup.

Slovenia is tied at 67th in the FIFA World Rankings with Burkina Faso.

"England were outplayed, outmuscled, outthought for most of this game,” former England defender Danny Mills said on BBC Radio 5 live. “They should consider themselves very lucky.”

In the postgame press conference, Southgate said, "We wanted six points but we have taken over a mess and had to steady the ship. We are on track. I am going to have a couple of days to go and sleep."

Southgate has a point about inheriting a mess. England, winless at the 2014 World Cup during its first-round exit, managed one victory at Euro 2016 before being ousted by Iceland -- the end of Roy Hodgson’s four-year tenure.

Then came the embarrassing end to Allardyce’s 67-day stint, which included one game, the 2018 World Cup qualifying opener, a 1-0 win over Slovakia.

The final two games of the Southgate test run come Nov. 11, a World Cup qualifier against Scotland, and a Nov. 15 friendly against Spain, both at Wembley.

According to several British media outlets, the English FA was hoping that Southgate proved himself worthy of making the appointment permanent during his four-game run.

Scotland is coming off a 3-0 loss to Slovakia and a 1-1 tie with Lithuania. Anything but an emphatic England win should end all speculation that Southgate might remain on.

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