Gareth Southgate doesn’t seem to know why the players he picked yet again played the way he’s had them playing in all the games in their struggle to get past the might of… [checks notes]… Malta.
Somehow Southgate wasn’t the only one shocked by this display by his favourites. How many the games in this qualifying has Dion Dublin moaned that England are playing slow and passing it backwards to often. Well, many times and yet he’s surprised that Southgate’s England yet again don’t play fas front foot football.
They play dull sideways and backwards football. They are an extension of the manager. He is a dull person. His teams play dull football. Some goals have just blinded people to the fact that the vast majority of the game they’ve just watched has been stultifyingly dull.
But then Dion Dublin seems like another who surprised by his own farts. He was coming in level with Southgate for posts on Twitter during/after the match. Dion telling us what “two touch football” is. Is it taking two touches only, Dion? Dion telling Harry Kane what he should be doing – while Kane is sitting on 21 goals for his club so far this season and the most goals Dion ever scored in a season is 20… and it’s only November.
Or when Trippier hit the first defender with an attempted cross, Dion rightly blamed Trippier. When Rashford hit the first defender with an attempted cross, Dion blamed… the other England players in the box. When Foden hit the first defender with a free kick, Dion blamed… Trippier.
But because England didn’t manage a shot on target until the 64th minute – despite going ahead in the 8th minute when for once Foden wasn’t greedy and actually tried to pass a ball off in the box rather than go for goal himself – this was somehow different from the dullathons that had gone on previously.
Nothing here was new. Fullbacks passing it backwards, not new. Kane having to drop deep because there was no creativity, not new. Southgate looking confused, not new.
It would have actually been so funny if Malta, the might of Malta currently ranked 171 with a population half that of Birmingham, had taken that early lead. Seconds in, not even half a minute when Malta’s umber 10 went really close and it all came from a prime example of Southgate’s England. A throw in that went backwards.
How many throws do you see England play forward? An England throw on the edge of the opposition box, you’re guaranteed it’s going to be at the feet of Pickford, or whoever is in England’s goal, within a couple of passes. Throw goes backward, then it’s passed back.
But Dion got all excited when Southgate brought Walker on at half time. Walker was going to make all the difference. Well, his first act was being skinned by a Malta player. Then he was back to his usual back-passing routine, while Trippier was now on the left and getting his body in that position he can only pass it back.
Though Walker was involved in the only real decent thing England did all night, that led to their second goal. But as you watch him dithering with the ball, he hasn’t got a clue what to do and it’s more luck than judgement he found Foden, who played the ball through to Saka who crossed for harry Kane’s 62 England goal. Should have been his 63rd but for some bizarre reason Kane was booked for diving when taken out by the keeper. Surely a “clear and obvious error” is when you get it this completely wrong.
Oh god, when Rice thought he had the third, very shortly after the second, they were wetting themselves with excitement. Maaate, it’s Malta. Chalked off as the ball whizzed past Kane who was offside.
England finished with three shots on target and three off. Against Malta, at home… and now Southgate is taking about getting England to the top spot in the FIFA rankings…