England midfielder Jordan Henderson insists the Three Lions must embark on a charm offensive to win back public support after his side’s unconvincing victory over Malta on Saturday ended with a chorus of boos.
Skipper Wayne Rooney was deployed in a deep-lying central midfield role for the World Cup qualifier and was jeered by a section of fans during the clash, especially when he shanked a late shot high, wide and behind for a goal kick.
But despite handing Gareth Southgate a winning start to his reign as interim boss, England were not spared an unfavourable critique from the stands as heckles were again audible at full time.
England’s meagre 2-0 success over Malta, a team ranked 716th in the Fifa world rankings, follows their dismal showing at Euro 2016 in the summer, and Henderson acknowledges that the relationship between team and fans remains fractured.
“I didn’t hear any boos but we have got to deal with that as players,” said Henderson.
“We’re professional footballers and there is going to be criticism. We have just got to focus on what’s important and that’s the team, that’s staying together and winning games.
“The fans have got every right to criticise with the way we went out, not only the Euros, but also the World Cup a couple of years ago.
“We’ve got to take criticism, we have deserved it, but I still fee that criticism comes because the fans feel as though we have got good quality, they know we are a good team and they want us to do well.
“It’s up to us to put good performances on, to win games and make sure everyone is believing that we can do something special.”
Henderson has backed Rooney, who turns 31 later this month, to shrug off the speculation over his enduring value to the side and prove his worth, starting in Tuesday’s Group F clash with Slovenia.
“Wayne is experienced enough to know just to concentrate on football,” added Henderson.
“He’s had criticism a lot in his career, like a lot of players, and he deals with it very well.
“He’s our captain, he’s our leader and he’s a fantastic player for both Manchester United and England. He’s experienced enough to be able to deal with things like that.”