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‘This was the hardest game’ – Gareth Southgate defends players after late England draw against Poland

'This was the hardest game' - Gareth Southgate defends players after late England draw against Poland

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Gareth Southgate praised his England players despite acknowledging a disappointing 1-1 draw with Poland on Wednesday night.

Harry Kane looked to have won the game with a long-distance strike, only for England to concede a sloppy late equaliser by Damian Szymanski.

Speaking after the game to the BBC, Southgate pointed out some positives from the match.

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“It was no surprise that this was the hardest game in the group. Early in the game, we were a little slow to move the ball and Poland pressed us well,” he said.

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“We got caught in our own half a few times but we recovered well and defended those situations well. As the half wore on we started to get a grip of the game and gain more control without making really any clear chances – other than Harry Kane’s header at the far post.

“In the second half we controlled the game. If there’s a criticism it’s that we didn’t create enough clear chances from that possession and we didn’t get enough players in the box.

“While it’s one-nil you run the risk of what happened at the end. We’re clearly disappointed not to get the three points but I have to look at what the players have done across these three matches.

“Given that there was no way of telling how they would react after what happened in the [Euro 2020 final], I think their mentality and application has been really good.”

Some observers noted that he had failed to make a substitution in the game, which may have contributed to the late equaliser. Southgate attempted to counter those claims.

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“We wanted to make substitutions towards the end, but when the goal went in we thought there was no point because we would be adding time on,” he explained.

“We were playing well, we were in control. At those moments, it’s not easy to come on as a substitute and we would be taking people off for the sake of it, frankly.

“We were in total control, there was no issue, why disrupt it when you’re in control?”

England top their group with 16 points from six games, four clear of Albania directly beneath them, and five ahead of Poland.

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Kane admitted to ITV after the game that it was a difficult ending to the game, saying: “A tough one to take right at the end, I thought we handled the game well, not an easy place to come and we were seeing the game out well. Sometimes the pressure comes away from home but we are top with four games to go.

“Rebounds and second balls fell their way and the guy headed it in. That is football. Two tough away games in this camp but four points clear and we are in a good position.”

The striker added on Radio 5: “Of course [there was an ‘edgy’ atmosphere], we’re playing for the opportunity to play in the World Cup. Poland clearly saw this as their last opportunity to take some points off us and get closer to us in the group.

“I thought we handled it well. The Hungary game and this game away from home were not easy to play in. The boys stepped up and put in good performances.”

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