Gareth Southgate’s England have just two more matches before the start of their World Cup campaign in Qatar.

Gareth Southgate has had nights of deep disappointment as England manager before but none laced with the level of vitriolic personal abuse and scrutiny that followed humiliation by Hungary at Molineux.

The loss to Croatia in the last four of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the defeat to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final last July fell under the banner of glorious failure as England were in territory they had not occupied in so long.

Southgate’s own status as – so the song went – “the one” was largely untouched among England supporters even though his conservative approach in both those games had been revisited amid a dreadful start to their Nations League campaign.

The 4-0 embarrassment at the hands of a workmanlike but hardly world class Hungary side was different. Very different.

Southgate was the main target for a mutinous Molineux as the pain piled up with loud chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” as a result of the worst performance in his six years and 74 games as England manager.

Of course Southgate knows what he is doing. It was only a year ago he led England to their first major final since they won the World Cup in 1966. They have cruised through qualifying for Qatar – although so they should.

Is Southgate the winner England have wanted for 56 years? This remains an unanswered question.

We will find out more in Qatar and there is no doubt this World Cup will shape his future, even though he is contracted for two more years afterwards.

Memories for football managers are notoriously short, especially with England, and Southgate is going nowhere. Nor should he with the World Cup in Qatar only six months hence. It is not even a debate for someone who has achieved what he has in his two major tournaments.

This does not stop the growing and obvious concerns around an England team now facing relegation in the Nations League and without a goal in open play for six hours.

Southgate has been surrounded by grumblings of discontent and off-stage chuntering throughout these recent games as England have been uninspired, out of sorts and, well, just deadly dull.

Manager and players needed a convincing win to round off the season and stem those growing gripes but instead all they got was an England horror show as they were clinically taken apart by a Hungary side ranked 40th in the world.

Again, there must be context.

Many England players have looked exhausted at the end of an arduous season. Southgate himself has cut a more world-weary figure than usual as this international break has moved through defeat in Budapest, a late draw via Harry Kane’s penalty in Munich, the goalless draw with Italy then carnage against Hungary.

There is also no escaping the brutal reality that England do not resemble a team that has moved forward in the last 12 months and now have only two more Nations League games, against Italy and Germany in September, to start looking like one.

Old faults remain, such as the over-reliance on Kane, while the performance of John Stones, even though his sending off was ridiculous, will do nothing to lower pulse rates at the prospect of his partnership with Manchester United captain Harry Maguire handling world-class forwards in Qatar.

It was also not a bad night for Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to have off, his status as England number one further enhanced as Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale found himself stuck behind such a wretched performance.

Southgate and England need this summer break to refresh minds and legs, to dissect what has happened not just in the last fortnight but throughout a lacklustre 12 months.

He will hope players who have looked leg-weary are refreshed and come through the first three months of the Premier League season unharmed, because much depends on it for Southgate and England.

Southgate must settle on his formation and midfield personnel, where Jude Bellingham will come further into the equation. He must decide whether to change his trusted midfield pair of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, who was desperately out of sorts against Hungary, although he has had an injury-troubled season.

Can a striker stick their hand up as understudy to Kane? Although given the England captain’s towering influence on all things, especially goalscoring, this is something Southgate will hope he never has to put into action.

Tuesday was a night to forget, but forgetting will be impossible. It will cast a cloud over Southgate until England reassemble in September. It was so bad, so damaging.

Fatigue is only part of the explanation for such a result and England have not been firing for some time. They have looked on the drift.

England are not unravelling but things can change quickly. It was only last September they inflicted exactly the same scoreline on Hungary in a toxic Budapest environment.

Southgate’s reservoir of goodwill among England fans has run a little dry in recent times but there is still time to replenish it, to at least start November’s World Cup in Qatar in better shape than this season finished in the fury of Molineux.

It seems both England’s manager and players need to recharge batteries – but they must do it quickly as the clock is ticking towards Qatar.

Around the BBC - SoundsAround the BBC footer - Sounds



Source link