Southgate vows to fight on and pleads progress

Barnsley-born John Stones looks dejected after defeat and elimination for the England Under-21s in the Czech Republic Picture: Matthias Schrader/AP).
Barnsley-born John Stones looks dejected after defeat and elimination for the England Under-21s in the Czech Republic Picture: Matthias Schrader/AP).
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Gareth Southgate will not quit as England Under-21s’ head coach despite the “huge disappointment” of their early exit from the European Championship.

A year to the day since a goalless draw with Costa Rica rubber-stamped the senior team’s World Cup failure, the Young Lions wasted a glorious chance to raise the nation’s hopes and make the semi-finals in the Czech Republic.

Southgate’s men arrived at the Ander Stadium with destiny in their own hands but capitulated against Italy and fell to an embarrassing 3-1 defeat in Olomouc.

It led to the Under-21s’ third straight group-stage exit on this stage, understandably raising questions about Southgate’s selections and his position as head coach. But the former Middlesbrough defender signed a contract extension until 2017 in January and has no intention of reneging on that deal.

“I’m contracted to stay on, I’d like to stay on,” said Southgate, when asked about his future. “In the end, it’s not my decision.

“But I think what we’ve done over two years has progressed the profile of the team, the style in which we’ve played.

“I think we’ve had some massive success stories in terms of individuals that have come through the programme. Even in this tournament one or two players that have come through have emerged from it.

“So I think people will look at all of that when they’re making that decision.”

Southgate reports to the Football Association’s technical director Dan Ashworth, who was in Olomouc to witness the Young Lions’ exit first-hand.

He, like the rest of the nation, would have been buoyed by England’s bright start, only to be left exasperated by Italy’s quick-fire goals through Andrea Belotti and Marco Benassi.

Matters got worse when Benassi directed home a fine header in the 72nd minute, rendering Nathan Redmond’s impressive stoppage-time strike meaningless. That was England’s 20th attempt of the night and just their fourth on target – a toothlessness which hampered Southgate’s men throughout the tournament in the Czech Republic as they scored just twice from 56 shots at goal.

Southgate added: “It’s pretty straightforward from those statistics and you would back the players that we’ve got to put those chances away.

“Over the course of a league season, if you had stats like we’ve had in the past two weeks you’d get some consistency and some goals.

“In a tournament, you’ve got to do it within three games.”

Reflecting on the tournament as a whole, he added: “Huge disappointment that we’ve not been able to get out of the group is the underlying feeling for all of us, staff and players.

“We travelled with high expectations and hope.”

Southgate said it was “impossible to say whether we would have done better” with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, unavailable to him despite being eligible for the tournament.

But he rued the absence through injury of Luke Shaw and Saido Berahino as well as the concussion that limited defender John Stones’ availability.

“The regret is that for the three games, of the players we wanted to select, we didn’t have Luke, we didn’t have Saido and we didn’t have John Stones until the last game,” he said.

“At senior level if you lose three of your top players, it has a big impact. At age-group level it’s even more significant.

“That’s not to take away from the players here, who have given absolutely everything, but they’re three players who have been with the seniors and would have been key in our plans to attack the tournament.”

Despite everything, Southgate was adamant the tournament will help the development of the players involved.

“They are so tight as a group, they’ve been through so much together,” he said.

“They’ve learned so much over the past two years but also in the last couple of weeks about tournaments, about themselves and life and everything.

“They’ve been absolutely brilliant to work with. I’ve been asked ‘is there a lack of commitment?’ and ‘do they not want it enough?’.

“Well, I think the goal at the end (against Italy) epitomises what they’re about. We’ve fallen short maybe of a bit of quality but I think that quality is there.”

For striker Kane, the solution is obvious.

“We’ve got to keep working on it and keep getting braver in the tournaments,” he said. “We’ve got to start winning tournaments through all age groups up to the seniors, but probably we’ve got to look back at the games and what we could have done better.”