Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold provided much of England’s creativity (Photo: Getty)
The Three Lions laboured to a 2-0 win at Wembley on Friday night, courtesy of an own goal from Enrico Pepe and a late Harry Kane strike.
Though they have already booked their place at Euro 2024 and maintained their unbeaten run in the qualifiers, it was a very uninspired performance against lowly – albeit spirited – opposition.
It took over an hour before the first shot on target of the game and Southgate was quick to acknowledge his side were underwhelming, though he refused to criticise his players too harshly.
‘If you don’t start games well it’s very difficult to pick it up and we didn’t. We know the level we’ve got should be better, can be better,’ he said post-match.
‘Those games that you know you can win at a canter, the number of games these players are playing, it’s almost a self-regulation. We didn’t hit the heights that we have done this calendar year.
‘So not enough quality on the ball, and not enough chances created but I have been a player and I know exactly how those games feel and clearly it’s possible we could have had three or four with the decisions as well but we didn’t create enough clear chances to deserve that anyway.
Marc Guehi has continued to impress for England (Photo: Getty)
‘These players have played so many games and have done so well for us so I am not going to hammer them for it. We weren’t where we [should be] but we got the win.’
Southgate was keen to praise a quartet of star, namely Trent Alexander-Arnold who once again was trialled in a midfield role.
Asked about the Liverpool right-back, the England boss added: ‘He has got outstanding quality. He and Phil [Foden] were the two in the first half that looked like opening the game up for us.
‘Marc Guehi was good at the back, another very mature performace. He’s really grown as an international footballer.
‘The changes brought more quality. They [Malta] don’t lose by fives and sixes and obviously, we didn’t create as many chances as we’d like to.
‘Cole Palmer coming on for his debut had a good impact. He looked very comfortable in this environment. There are positives but we know we were not where we want to be and can be.’
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