Gareth Southgate defended his decision not to use any of his substitutions after England conceded a stoppage-time goal to Poland in their World Cup qualifying 1-1 draw in Warsaw.
The England boss made 11 changes from Sunday’s win over Andorra, reverting to the starting side he put out for last Thursday’s win in Hungary for the trip to Poland.
After Harry Kane’s strike had put the visitors ahead, Southgate stuck with those players, despite England retreating in the latter stages of what had been a physical and, at times, frantic contest.
His options on the bench included defenders Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Coady and Kieran Trippier.
“We were very comfortable and in total control so it would have been making substitutions for the sake of it really, and that can disrupt the rhythm we had,” Southgate told Sky Sports News.
“I have absolutely no doubt that will be questioned but we didn’t see that was needed.”
World Cup Qualifying – Group I
While Southgate was frustrated with the manner in which England conceded, with Damian Szymanski heading in Robert Lewandowski’s cross to the back post, and admitted he wanted to see his side create more openings at the other end, he was generally encouraged by his team’s performance.
“Overall, pretty pleased. The opening 15-20 minutes it was difficult to get control of the game,” he said.
“We’re away from home against a proud country who have got some good players. As the half wore on, I thought we started to get a little more control without ever looking like creating a clear-cut chance. But then second half I thought we controlled the game.
“[We scored] a fabulous goal, a fantastic strike. Again we probably didn’t create many clear-cut chances, we didn’t get as many men in the box as we’d have liked at times and there were a couple of sloppy moments at the end where we could have conceded a goal and then we did concede a goal.
“We’re right to be disappointed only to take a point because we shouldn’t concede. But the players have been fantastic this week and we’re in a really strong position in the group.
“The qualification is done if we take the three points tonight. We had a warning with the goal kick that was charged down and a lack of concentration, a bit of poor defending and good teams will punish you. Maybe that’s not a bad thing for us that we’ve had a punch on the nose at the end.”
Analysis: Do England have an issue holding onto leads in big games?
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
For much of this match, Gareth Southgate will have been encouraged. There were partnerships all over the pitch. Harry Maguire and John Stones. Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice. Perhaps most excitingly, the combination play between Luke Shaw, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount is beginning to prove a real asset for this England team.
The late Poland equaliser means the end of the perfect record but it should not mean the end of the optimism. England are on course to qualify for the World Cup. The momentum can continue. This was just a reminder there is work still to do.
Kyle Walker was beaten in the build-up, Mount missed a chance to clear and Shaw was beaten to the header with Grealish looking on. But Southgate is mature enough to begin by looking at himself rather than his players. Does he have a problem closing out tight games?
The sample size in international football is never big but all three tournament finals for Southgate’s England have ended in defeat after being 1-0 up midway through the second half. They were overhauled in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia, the Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands and beaten on penalties by Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
This draw in Warsaw was not of that magnitude, of course, but it was their biggest competitive test prior to next year’s World Cup in Qatar and it follows that same trend. The lead was just about deserved. But so was the equaliser as England retreated.
Southgate’s side tired in those aforementioned matches and there were signs of that here too, but the substitutions did not come. Not one in the 94 minutes. The manager might wonder whether Mount or Grealish could have made way for, say, Jude Bellingham.
He should not be too concerned. This was a confident performance from a team that continues to grow. England are sure to be in Qatar. It is just that we may now have to wait until they are there to find out whether they have the knowhow to hold onto these leads.
England return to World Cup Qualifier action next month, when they go to Andorra on October 9 and host Hungary at Wembley on October 12.