Southgate's future rocky with dismal performance
ENGLAND interim manager Gareth Southgate is halfway through his audition for the full-time job but his hopes were hardly helped by an ugly performance in a 0-0 draw in Slovenia on Tuesday.
He claims he inherited a "mess" after replacing Sam Allardyce, who lasted only 67 days in the job, and the display in Ljubljana was anything but pretty.
England rode their luck to stay top of Group F and on course for the 2018 Russia World Cup, thanks to some outstanding goalkeeping by Joe Hart. But there were few positives in a shapeless display that classier opposition than 67th-ranked Slovenia would have punished.
His decision to drop skipper and England's all-time leading scorer Wayne Rooney in favour of Eric Dier was hardly a qualified success with the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder almost gifting Slovenia an early goal.
Jordan Henderson, who wore the captain's armband, struggled to exert much authority. He, too, was guilty of a careless pass that would have led to a Slovenia goal after the break but for another fine intervention by the overworked Hart.
When Rooney did come off the bench in the 73rd minute, he almost gave his side an undeserved lead with a shot that flashed past the post.
But there was precious little to excite the visiting fans as England laboured to a draw.
Southgate's first game since replacing disgraced Allardyce was a nondescript 2-0 win over Malta last weekend.
Now, he must wait another month before a qualifier at home to Scotland and a friendly versus Spain, after which the English Football Association is expected to make a decision on his future.
"I can't thank the players and support team enough for the backing I have had," a subdued Southgate said.
"We wanted six points but we have taken over a mess and had to steady the ship. We are on track.
"We still sit top of the group and I know people will be disappointed we haven't won but, in the long term, we are ahead in the group and we've got two difficult away games out of the way so everything is in our hands."