Southgate has faith in England Under-21s’ focus

England's U21 manager Gareth Southgate
England's U21 manager Gareth Southgate
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England Under-21s’ head coach Gareth Southgate is confident none of his players will be viewing victory in their Euro 2015 play-off as a given despite the fine form the Young Lions have shown so far in their qualifying campaign.

Southgate’s charges go into tonight’s first leg of the clash against Croatia at Molineux having stormed to top spot in Group 1, taking 28 points from a possible 30.

They won their last eight fixtures in a row and scored a total of 31 goals while conceding just twice.

Southgate has stressed the Croatians represent a “step up” for his side, though, and that nobody will be taking this final hurdle between England and next summer’s tournament in the Czech Republic for granted.

Regarding the challenge of taking on a Croatia outfit who won all but two games en route to topping their qualification pool, Southgate said: “There won’t be a problem in terms of the mentality of our players. They recognise that this is a step up from the group.

“But they also recognise it is a step they can make. It is a game they have the ability to win.

“Across the 180 minutes, not everything will go for us I’m sure, so how we react to those little moments in the games will be key.

“But in terms of the professionalism and the attitude, I have no concerns about the players at all.”

Southgate has emphasised that, with the job of getting through the play-offs still to be done, there has been no talk about the finals in the camp.

“It (the tournament itself) is part of our vision for the team, there is no question about that –it has been on the board since we started this campaign,” Southgate said. “But in terms of this week, other than referring to this being the next part of that process, we haven’t even looked beyond the first leg.

“Even the second leg (in Vinkovci on Tuesday) will be a completely different scenario, and we have no idea what the score will be going into that.

“So for now, we are just focused on the game at Molineux.”

Southgate confirmed Carl Jenkinson, the Arsenal full-back who is on loan at West Ham, has left the camp due to his hamstring problem.

Southgate said: “We feel it’s unlikely he would be ready for the second game and that it would be better that he goes back to work with his club.”