England boss Gareth Southgate admitted his side’s latest underwhelming showing would do little to stem the tide of indifference which is engulfing the national team after their World Cup qualification campaign ended with victory in Lithuania.
Registering just four shots on target against a team ranked No120 in the world, the Three Lions sealed maximum points courtesy of a first-half Harry Kane penalty – his 43rd goal in 37 appearances for Tottenham and England during 2017.
England finished their qualification campaign with eight wins and two draws from 10 matches, although there was nothing tangible, either in Vilnius or the previous nine games, to suggest that Southgate’s side will be among the challengers in Russia next year.
Southgate used the clash to shuffle his pack, making seven changes to the team which edged past Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday, fielding two debutants – Harry Winks and Harry Maguire – and switching to a back three.
“We’ve won two matches and after both we’ve come away a bit flat,” said Southgate. “We wanted to score a load of goals today on the back of the other night. When you don’t, you understand the reaction.
“We’ve not been able to break down a packed defence, but the change of system is a starting point. We’ll get better at that.
“For me, qualification was done and it was the time to change the system and look at the implementation of that, looking at players to take us forward.”
Southgate praised the way in which goalscorer Kane led the Three Lions during the final two qualifiers but refused to confirm whether the 24-year-old would be handed the armband permanently.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s led, in terms of by example on the pitch and also with the group,” added Southgate. “I know everyone wants me to get a shift on [to name the captain], but I want to give myself time.”
England had won only one of their five away games under Southgate and Lithuania offered an attacking threat during the opening period; Darvydas Sernas’ improvised volley on 25 minutes had goalkeeper Jack Butland scrambling.
The visitors slowly creaked into gear and on 27 minutes Dele Alli was tripped in the area by Ovidijus Verbickas to earn the Three Lions a spot-kick. Kane was as clinical as ever as his low penalty, which struck the post on its way in, beat Lithuania stopper Ernestas Setkus.
A sprawling Butland prevented a Michael Keane own goal, while England’s best chance of doubling their lead in the second-half fell to Aaron Cresswell, whose towering header was repelled by Setkus.