Having been booed after England’s last performance, the 4-0 defeat at home to Hungary during the summer, Southgate suffered a similar ignominy from some of the 4,000 travelling supporters inside the San Siro stadium.
“I understand the reaction at the end because that’s the results we have had in this competition. It’s an understandable emotional reaction,” he said although he risked provoking further fury by claiming it had been a good performance against Italy.
“It’s really difficult to pinpoint why we are not scoring. I think we are getting into the right areas. We had the moments where we would have the pass but we just didn’t deliver that final piece of quality,” Southgate said.
“It’s difficult for me to be too critical of the performance. We had more possession, more shots, more shots on target.
“For large parts of the game we played very well. We didn’t deal with the decisive moment defensively. We had moments where we had the chance to be decisive in their final third which our quality wasn’t quite right.”
‘I thought performance was a step in right direction’
Southgate, who has a contract up until the Euro finals in 2024, will face further questions over his own future but remained defiant despite England’s poor run which followed 22 games without a defeat. “It’s a spell where ultimately results are going to be the thing that everyone reacts to but I thought there were a lot of positives for us as a team,” he said.
“Lots of good individual performances. I personally thought the performance is a step in the right direction. I completely understand because of the result that is not going to be the reaction.”
Having put a great deal of store in the Nations League, Southgate admitted England’s desperately poor campaign is not something that can be easily dismissed. “We can’t say there is no value. These were important matches against top-level teams. As I have said there are a lot of reasons for the results in the summer,” he explained.
“We have not got the result that we needed or wanted so we are in a run of bad results. But it’s for us to put that right and the only way to do that is to stick with what we believe, stick with what has got us success in the previous tournaments and in the end the players have got to stay really tight because there is going to be a lot of noise. A lot of that will be around me and that’s absolutely fine. It’s my job to take that pressure for them.”
Southgate started with Harry Maguire, who has lost his place at Manchester United, and admitted the dearth of players who were performing was a problem.
“We’ve said we’re not in an ideal situation in terms of numbers of players playing at a high level regularly,” he said. “But we’ve got to keeping working on it and make sure we stay on track. They’ll be a huge amount of noise of course but that’s created from the summer, really and I totally understand that. The players in the dressing room know this was a game they well could have won. And if they take their chances and defend the goal better, then we do win. It’s fine margins. We’re playing some of the biggest football nations and the fine margins are decisive.”
Midfielder Declan Rice also insisted that England are close to turning their form around. “It’s obviously disappointing,” he said. Every tournament we go into, we set out to win. In the Nations League we have slipped below our standards but I didn’t think it was all bad.
“We’ve slipped below our standards in the Nations League. It’s coming, a much better performance than in the summer. It’s not that we’re not creating chances, so many times we got into the opposition’s penalty box and I had a chance at the end there.
“I see it in training, there’s goals for fun. It’s coming. It’s coming. Trust me, we’re going to be good.”