Gareth Southgate urged Kyle Walker and the rest of England’s players to learn from the mistakes they made against Iceland after the Three Lions rode their luck to win 1-0 in Reykjavik.
An otherwise turgid Nations League clash ended in high drama as Birkir Bjarnason blazed over a stoppage-time penalty just moments after Raheem Sterling converted from the spot at the opposite end of the pitch.
And while Southgate’s men showed good character to emerge victorious away from home against a well-organised Iceland side, they were a long way from their best on Saturday evening.
The match appeared to be heading for a goalless draw after Walker was given his marching orders for a rash challenge, his second bookable offence, with 20 minutes remaining.
But Sverrir Ingason blocked Sterling’s shot with his arm at the death and the Manchester City forward made no mistake with the resulting penalty, after regular taker, Harry Kane, was replaced by Mason Greenwood.
Joe Gomez gave the hosts a golden opportunity to equalise a matter seconds after England took the lead and Southgate will have breathed a sigh of his relief as Bjarnason skied his spot-kick over the crossbar.
However, the England head coach was far from happy with the overall performance his players produced in the game, leaving plenty of room for improvement ahead of Tuesday’s encounter with Denmark.
‘It was a real mixed bag. I think we started the game well, we were sharp for 15-20 minutes,’ Southgate told Sky Sports shortly after the final whistle.
‘Obviously I think the goal should stan. I’ve not seen it back but I believe it should stand and I think that would have had a big bearing on the flow of the game and that slight little anxiety that’s there when you haven’t got the goal.
‘Then I thought for the next period, we were good until the final third but that little lack of match sharpness showed in our creative play. Defensively we were reasonably solid, we were caught on a few counter-attacks but defended the set-pieces well.
‘The sending off is obviously a key moment because I felt we were in even more control in the second half and it’s even more difficult to win games of football at any level if you’re down to ten men. So that’s a lesson we have to learn, it was an unnecessary red card.’
Southgate was pleased with England’s response to Walker’s sending off but admits they ‘got away with it’ after gifting the opposition a potential equaliser in the dying moments.
‘The response was great, we managed to stay in good possession of the ball, still looked a threat and got the penalty,’ he added.
‘I thought Raheem’s desire and drive through that period was outstanding so it was great he took that penalty under pressure and then another lesson we have to learn.
‘To invite the ball as we did and defend it as we did was really poor play so in the end we got away with it. It sums the week up really. It’s been so difficult to piece everything together and so many challenges.
We leave here with a win which was really important and some experience for some young players but obviously it’s a bit flat because it feels as if, in the end, we got away with it. That’s my honest reflection of how I saw it.’
‘I’ve no complaints in terms of the officials on any of the penalties or the red card.
‘We’ve talked a lot over the years on discipline and when you go down to ten men, in tournaments especially, it’s proved critical so it’s not something we want to see again.’
Walker – the first senior England player to receive a red card since Sterling back in June 2014 – spoke emotionally about his international future after the win and admitted he badly let his team-mates down with his ‘unacceptable’ challenge.
‘To get sent off for your country is never a nice moment especially after being out of the team for so long and being on 49 caps,’ the Manchester City right-back said.
‘I have to take the full blame. To make a rash challenge like that is not acceptable. I don’t blame the pressure, I am a seasoned professional and I should know how to manage a game.
‘You have to say fair play to the lads for digging in and fighting and getting the win.
‘The first couple of games back were always going to be tough. We have a good bond here, a great spirit. Maybe it was why I got the red card, I want to leave everything on the pitch for everyone.’
‘That is the sad thing about being a footballer, it comes to an end sometime and I am probably nearing the end of my international career.
‘Hopefully I will be back. I have to talk to the boss and see what he wants to do. I am more than happy to say I want to be around the team. I have missed it.’