London - England interim manager Gareth Southgate is halfway
through his audition for the full-time job but his hopes were hardly helped by
an ugly performance in a 0-0 draw in Slovenia on Tuesday.
Southgate claims he inherited a "mess" after
replacing Sam Allardyce, who lasted only 67 days in the job, and the display in
Ljubljana was anything but pretty.
England rode their luck to stay top of Group F and on course
for the 2018 Russia World Cup, thanks to some outstanding goalkeeping by Joe
Hart, but there were few positives in a shapeless display that classier
opposition than 67th-ranked Slovenia would have punished.
His decision to drop skipper and England's all-time leading
scorer Wayne Rooney in favour of Eric Dier was hardly a qualified success with
the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder almost gifting Slovenia an early goal.
Jordan Henderson, who wore the captain's armband, struggled
to exert much authority and he too was guilty of a careless pass that would
have led to a Slovenia goal after the break but for another fine intervention
by the over-worked Hart.
When Rooney did finally come off the bench in the 73rd
minute he almost gave his side an undeserved lead with a shot that flashed past
the post, but there was precious little to excite the visiting fans as England
laboured to a draw.
Southgate's first game since replacing disgraced Allardyce
was a nondescript 2-0 win over Malta last weekend.
Now he must wait another month before a qualifier at home to
Scotland and a friendly versus Spain, after which the English Football
Association are expected to make a decision on his future.
"I can't thank the players and support team enough for
the backing I have had," a subdued 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."
There will be much for Southgate to ponder when he wakes up.
Not least the amount of times his players were guilty of
giving away possession - an age-old English fault.
He will also have to wrestle with the inevitable Rooney
debate and solve England's failure to score goals or even create chances. They
only had three shots on target on Tuesday.
Southgate tried to look on the bright side though even if
the morning sports pages were likely to be critical.
"To have to deal with the amount of things we've had to
deal with over a period of time, the objective is to get the points on the
board for the country," he said.
"We still sit top of the group and I know people will
be disappointed we haven't won but in the long term we are ahead in the group
and we've got two difficult away games out of the way so everything is in our