Southgate were booed after England’s final appearance, their 4-0 defeat at home to Hungary in the summer, and met a similar disgrace from some of the 4,000 traveling supporters at the San Siro stadium.
“I understand the reaction at the end because those are the results we’ve had in this competition. It’s an understandable emotional reaction,” he said, though he risked provoking further anger by claiming it was a good performance was against Italy.
“It’s really hard to say why we’re not scoring. I think we’re getting into the right areas. We had the moments where we would have the pass, but we just didn’t deliver that last bit of quality,” said Southgate.
“It’s hard for me to be too critical of the performance. We had more possession, more shots, more shots on target.
“We played very well for large parts of the game. We didn’t tackle the decisive moment defensively. We had moments where we had the chance to be decisive in their last third, but our quality was not quite right.”
‘I thought performing was a step in the right direction’
Southgate, who is on contract until the Euro final in 2024, will face further questions about his own future, but remained challenging despite England’s poor run, which followed 22 games without a loss. “It’s a period where ultimately the results are the thing that everyone reacts to, but I thought there were a lot of positives for us as a team,” he said.
“A lot of good individual performances. Personally, I thought the performance was a step in the right direction. I completely understand because of the result that the reaction will not be.”
Southgate has placed great value on the Nations League, admitting that England’s desperately poor campaign is not something that can be easily dismissed. “We cannot say that there is no value. It was important matches against top teams. As I said, there are many reasons for the results in the summer,” he explained.
“We don’t have the result we needed or wanted, so we’re in a series of bad results. But it’s up to us to rectify that and the only way to do that is to hold on to what we believe, to hold on to what has brought us success in the previous tournaments and in the end the players have to stay very tight because there is a lot of noise going on. A lot of that will be around me and that’s absolutely fine. My job is to take over that pressure for them.”
Southgate started with Harry Maguire, who has lost his place at Manchester United, and admitted the lack of players playing was a problem.
“We have said that we are not in an ideal situation in terms of the number of players who regularly play at a high level,” he said. “But we have to keep working on it and make sure we stay on track. They will of course make a huge amount of noise but that was really made from the summer and I totally understand that. The players in the locker room know that this was a game they could have won. And if they take advantage of their chances and defend the goal better, then we win. They are fine margins. We play against some of the biggest football nations and the fine margins are decisive.”
Midfielder Declan Rice also emphasized that England are about to turn his form around. “It’s obviously disappointing,” he said. We wanted to win every tournament we entered. We fell below our standards in the Nations League, but I didn’t think it was all bad.
“We have fallen below our standards in the Nations League. It’s coming, a much better performance than in the summer. It’s not that we don’t create chances, that’s how often we got into the opponent’s penalty area and I had a chance there at the end.
“I see it in training, there are goals for fun. It’s coming. It’s coming. Trust me, we’re going to get good.”