HALF-BAKED in the kitchen, under-cooked at Wembley.
Just days after four of England’s players struggled with their gingerbread men, the entire team failed to produce anything better against a bunch of Maltesers.
Harry Kane watches one of the few highlights of the night – his goalRex
AFPKane celebrates his second-half strike with sub Bukayo Saka[/caption]
ReutersMalta’s Enrico Pepe was out of luck with his early own goal[/caption]
Yet at least the programme was more interesting than an unbelievably-dull 90 minute performance which was a proper turn-off.
It was England penultimate Euro2024 qualifier, which told us very little other than Fikayo Tomori will not be starting next summer’s tournament at left-back.
England emerged victorious with an eighth minute own goal from Enrico Pepe and a 62nd international goal from Harry Kane.
The Three Lions now go to North Macedonia on Monday knowing they are certain to be seeds at next summer’s tournament meaning they will miss the hosts Germany, France and Portugal.
Although if they play anything like this in the Euros, England could struggle to reach the quarter-finals which would be Southgate’s 100th game in charge.
Naturally, there is no reason to panic. This has still been a good calendar year for England, including two impressive wins over Italy.
A better test will be the next match here at Wembley in March and a friendly against Brazil. Tickets went on sale yesterday – and also sold out – before even going on general sale.
England were sluggish throughout, lacked ideas and kept passing sideways against a team ranked 171 in the world. How they missed Jude Bellingham.
Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson, Conor Gallagher, Tomori and Kieran Trippier were all starters who did not do themselves any favours under the watching eye of an unimpressed-looking Southgate
Incredibly, we nearly had a San Marino moment from 1993. Remember Davide Gualtieri and his goal after 8.3 seconds?
Well, Teddy Teuma’s decent effort was after 30 seconds but he would have enjoyed equal fame back in Malta had his drive beaten Jordan Pickford although the England keeper was relieved at seeing the effort fizz past his right post after Gallagher had lost possession.
Due to a huge number of injuries, particularly in defence, Southgate was forced to stick Tomori at left-back and maybe predictably, he played like a centre-half.
It was no surprise when he joined Gallagher in being replaced at the break.
Phil Foden had a few bright moments for England but even he did not have his best game for the senior team.
In fairness, England’s opener was down to him and a huge slice of fortune. His attempted square pass to Kane was diverted towards goal by Pepe and despite keeper Henry Bonello getting a hand to the ball, it went over the line via the underside of the bar.
England skipper Kane then suffered one of his most forgettable moments at a stadium where he has enjoyed so many glorious ones.
Enrico Pepe can’t believe his bad luck for an early own goal while Phil Foden enjoys his good fortune after providing the assistRex
Channel 4Declan Rice saw this fine 20-yarder ruled out for offside against Harry Kane[/caption]
APCole Palmer looked hungry on his England debut after coming on for Marcus Rashford after 61 minutes at Wembley[/caption]
GettyMarcus Rashford gave England an injury scare before being replaced[/caption]
Portuguese ref Luis Godinho brandished a yellow card at Kane who believed he should have been handed a penalty after keeper Henry Bonello rushed off his line.
Yet not for the first time, some Premier League supporters would argue, Kane clearly left a trailing leg before throwing himself onto the ground.
The Mexican waves then started in the 37th minute, soon to be followed by paper aeroplanes. It was one of those nights.
Bukayo Saka and Kyle Walker were introduced at the break but England remained devoid of ideas against a team who, surprisingly, had shown to be a bit of a threat when counter-attacking.
And it comes to something when even Walker is done for pace. He had Kylian Mbappe under control at the World Cup quarter-final a year ago but there was a moment when he was outpaced by Paul Mbong, who plays for FC Birkirkara.
Henderson was substituted to muted jeers although once again, on the pitch, he produced nothing to prove to the contrary that his move to Saudi Arabia was a terrible idea.
Kane had been starved of any supply but had an easy chance to score the second after Walker, Foden and Saka combined.
Declan Rice thought he had scored a third but it was ruled out by VAR for offside.
By the time Godinho blew the final whistle, Wembley was virtually empty with the crowd having wished they had stayed at home and done some cooking themselves.
Cole Palmer whips the ball but the Three Lions were uninspiringRex
PADeclan Rice rejoices after netting England’s third goal but VAR ruled it out[/caption]
PATrent Alexander-Arnold, who played the whole game in midfield, fires in this effort but England only produced three shots on target all night[/caption]