Gareth Southgate begs fans to stick with England’s young guns and forget sorry past

The Three Lions booked their place in Russia in front of an indifferent Wembley crowd on Thursday night, and Southgate is anxious that an admittedly poor performance should not detract from their achievements.

“I want to make a team that the country is proud of,” he said. “I have the opportunity to do something very few people have done in their lives – to lead their country to a World Cup also having played in one. And I am going to take us as far as I possibly can.

“I get what they are feeling about us at the moment, but I also believe in the potential of all these players.”

It took Harry Kane’s 94th-minute goal to see off Slovenia and while Southgate is not shying away from the disappointment, he does sense there is almost an expectation that the current England side will fail because of the experiences of previous generations.

“I go back to us picking up the consequences of decades of disappointment and this group are nowhere near as experienced as most of those teams,” Southgate said. “The hope is that people get behind them and give them a chance.

“I’m the manager, so of course I take responsibility for performance. I wouldn’t dream of it being any other way. But I also feel the players need the opportunity to grow and they need the opportunity to be backed, and to improve for the country to get behind.”

Despite securing qualification with one match to spare, Southgate indicated he would be taking his full squad to Lithuania today ahead of the final match in Group F in Vilnius tomorrow. That said, he is likely to use it as an opportunity to cast his eye over some of the fringe players at his disposal.

Beyond that, the FA confirmed in the aftermath of qualifying that the November friendlies at Wembley would be against Germany on November 10 and Brazil four days later. Southgate sees that sort of challenge as a measure of just how ready his side are to compete with the big guns when they head to Russia in June.

“I don’t know how far the team can go at the moment,” he said. “We will test ourselves in the next few months, we’ll see players develop with their clubs, we’ll see different players develop with us and let’s see how far we can go.

“We don’t know what the draw is, we don’t know anything yet. But what I do know is that we’ve got a group of players who I am proud to manage because they want to pull on the England shirt, they are prepared to have a go at everything to try and improve and, as a coach and as a manager, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”