Gareth Southgate hailed Jesse Lingard’s “outstanding” debut after the Manchester United attacker shone as England’s interim manager’s first match in charge ended in a 2-0 victory against Malta at Wembley.
First-half efforts from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli eased England to a straightforward victory, although they could not add more goals to the scoreline despite dominating possession.
Alli in particular was guilty of spurning numerous chances after being handed the number 10 role, with captain Wayne Rooney deeper in midfield, but it was Lingard who caught Southgate’s eye.
“Jesse Lingard had an outstanding debut and looked a real threat,” Southgate told ITV. “That’s why we wanted to start him.
“He’s got a strong mentality and he’s an exciting player. The stage is made for him and he’s scored twice at Wembley for United.”
Southgate felt some of his players were guilty of reducing their energy levels in the second half with England’s next game, in Slovenia on Tuesday, in the back of their minds.
“I thought in the first half we played well and we could and should have had more goals,” Southgate said. “Their goalkeeper made good saves.
“One or two players looked after themselves physically. We made positive changes and missed good chances but given where we were 10 days ago I’m pleased with the result but there is room to improve on the performance.
“I think players subconsciously know the game is won and we could have made it more comfortable but some of them were thinking about the next game which comes quickly.
“Each game is a different challenge. The next opposition [Slovenia] play a different style and we’re away, we look at all those things. We have a couple of injuries to assess and we’ll know more in the next few days, but we have good depth to make changes.”
Roberto Mancini was pictured at Wembley amid speculation he is a contender to become the next England manager, but Southgate, who has the job for the next three games, is focused on the task in hand.
“My job is to get the results which keep us at the top of the group and we achieved that,” he said. “People wanted more and I understand that, but we have to go and get that win.
“I’ve enjoyed the whole week but we would have liked four or five goals, but Malta had 1-0 defeats to Croatia and Italy in their last qualifying campaign.
“The goalkeeper played well and they defended in heavy numbers but we created well and we could have scored more.”