Gareth Southgate believes a balanced England side can overcome Ukraine and build towards a bright future
Last Updated: 11/09/12 12:41pm
On Tuesday night, England will take to the Wembley pitch looking to build on a positive opening to their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign and appease an expectant home support.
Standing in their way will be Ukraine, a side they edged out 1-0 just three months ago at Euro 2012.
Roy Hodgson's side will, however, be without the man who grabbed the winning goal in that contest - Wayne Rooney - as well as two important members of their back four - John Terry and Ashley Cole.
Chelsea skipper Terry misses out after picking up an ankle knock in a 5-0 victory over Moldova on Friday, but former England international Southgate is confident the Three Lions can negotiate a tricky test in his absence.
"I don't think it's as big a miss as it might have been 18 months ago," he told Sky Sports.
"The way that Phil Jagielka has played for England, the way that Gary Cahill has played for England, I think they can come in and handle that kind of game - especially at Wembley. These guys need to gain that experience. Yes, you would like to have John there, and I'm sure Roy Hodgson would rather have John there, but I think he will be confident that whoever he brings in to replace John can handle the occasion."
Centre-half is one area England are still working on, with it having been a case of Terry and one other for some time now.
Southgate, a man who knows all about the importance of defensive partnerships, said: "It has been. But you go back through the years, unfortunately when qualifiers come around, it isn't always possible to get your best players on the field. That's why you need a squad and that's why it's important that the likes of Jagielka, (Joleon) Lescott, Cahill get experience.
"This has been an important week for Leighton Baines as well. We have relied on Ashley Cole for so long but if you run into a tournament and Ashley Cole isn't available for some reason, it's important that the likes of Leighton Baines get experience in matches that count. I thought he did very well in Moldova, so you need that strength in depth."
The victory in Moldova saw Baines make his first competitive start - with a fit Cole proving to be an immoveable object at left-back - but Southgate admits for all of those still adjusting to life at international level, a home game at Wembley presents an entirely different challenge.
He said: "The expectation is different at Wembley and you have to handle playing in front of the crowd there and deal with the expectation that we will win. The opposition will be better quality than they were on Friday night. They will be quite happy to get a draw from the game, I'm sure, so it will be a lot harder to break them down than it was Moldova. They got the perfect start the other night with such an early goal, it's handling the pressure if it stays at 0-0 for a longer period of time."
England may have to be patient in midweek, with Ukraine working with an experienced squad that intends to make life difficult for the hosts.
Southgate, though, is confident Hodgson's men can take the spoils, saying: "The problem for the Ukraine is it is difficult to see where their goals are going to come from. They have got two good wide players, if they play them both, in (Yevhen) Konoplyanka and (Andriy) Yarmolenko. But (Andriy) Shevchenko still looked their biggest threat to score goals in the summer and without him, that's a big loss to their team.
"Historically, we have done well against them at Wembley but it has always been quite tight. I don't see that being any different. England should be buoyed by what happened on Friday night and I would expect them to win, but it might only be by the odd goal."
Hodgson has announced that the only change he will be making to his starting XI against Ukraine will be covering the loss of Terry, meaning a mix of experience and youth will be given another opportunity to impress.
Asked if England have found the right blend in the wake of yet more penalty heartache in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, Southgate said: "I think he has. It's very easy to come out of a tournament and say we should change everything, but the reality is that there aren't that many English players playing regular first-team football in the Premier League.
"You need experienced players around those younger players and as well as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tom Cleverley did against Moldova, you still needed the experience of (Frank) Lampard, (Steven) Gerrard, Terry around them to help them perform. It's better for the younger players to be blooded with more senior players around them - they can encourage them and advise them if things aren't going so well. We still needed a couple of goals from Frank to set us on our way, so that highlighted the balance that is needed.
"If players are good enough, their age doesn't matter. You can't pick a team full of entirely young players because then you struggle for leadership and guidance on the field. Any manager and coach can do as much as they can, but you need players on the field that lead, and that's harder for younger players."
Hodgson is attempting to strike the right balance, while generating positive results, but Southgate believes the former West Brom and Fulham boss must be given more time before judgements can be made on his side, style and success in the national post.
He said: "It is very difficult to say that a team is a certain manager's team until they have had a year or more in the job. This team is evolving, there are some young players coming through in the squad, which is great to see.
"It's interesting that in terms of his formation he has changed a little bit from the summer, when he was very much 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. He slightly altered that system the other night and in Switzerland for the friendly against Italy. In the summer we got overrun a bit in midfield against Italy and I'm sure he will have wanted to work on making sure that doesn't happen again. At Wembley the onus will be on us to dictate the tempo and the pace of the game. That is almost always the case at Wembley, unless you are playing the very best, and England will have to make sure that they, like they did in Moldova, get their full-backs forward. I'm sure they can get the win."
Gareth Southgate was speaking on behalf of williamhill.com, Europe's leading gaming and sports betting business and Official Supporter to both the England team and The FA Cup.