Southgate's assessment

The thoughts of Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate after his side's victory over Kosovo.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Gareth Southgate

Balancing the performance

England and Kosovo played out a captivating game at St. Mary's, but what did Gareth Southgate make of it?

England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the media after the game, and provided his thoughts on the performance both good and bad. 

“Well, it was bizarre really," he began.

“The outstanding features and the poor features are apparent to everybody, so we don’t need to get the video out and go back through it.

“Poor individual mistakes, a poor start to the game. But I liked the way we showed composure to recover from that initial mistake and our use of the ball throughout the first half was excellent, right the way through the team.

“We were very calm in playing through their pressure. I think the pattern of the game was exactly what we thought, that we would be pressed high, that we would have to handle that, that they would have a threat from their direct play, but that there would be space for us to play through them to exploit them on the counter-attack.

"So, that’s how the game played out and our attacking play…Raheem, Jadon and Harry were outstanding.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Jadon Sancho goal celebration

“Raheem’s two performances have been of the highest level. I think he’s been almost unstoppable, his awareness of where defenders were, his ability to ride challenges, his vision and desire to get in on goal and unselfish play as well, so I couldn’t speak highly enough of the way he played.

“Jadon - you know we were talking about the three on Saturday, well Jadon’s performance was at that level as well.

“He worked really hard for the team without the ball and showed the ability he has to go past people, to be calm in tight areas so that part of our game was absolutely outstanding. We continued that threat for most of the game.

“The small period after half time: ridiculous mistakes, poor decisions, lack of covering back, we made the game really uncomfortable for ourselves because on a night like this, where there’s such a brilliant atmosphere from both sets of fans, but of course the Kosovo fans were lifted by that fact that they’ve got nothing to lose, so 5-2, 5-3, is it possible?

“Then, actually, we took control again and kept possession for a long period which actually calmed the game down.

“That led to the penalty which, of course, would've put the game to bed. So, okay, it’s going to be one of those nights is it, where even that is not going in? 

“But they didn’t really create too many more opportunities and we had opportunities on the counter, when we hit the post and we still looked a threat until the end. 

“Look, it was a brilliant game. I know we were saying international football was dull, but that wasn’t the case tonight.

“Did it go exactly as I hoped it would've gone? No, but I’ve got to balance the two performances, the nine goals and what we’ve achieved this week against the obvious errors that will cost you and have cost us tonight, and of course would cost us against better opposition.”

Euro Qualifying head-to-head

South Coast thriller

The first ever senior meeting between England and Kosovo won't be forgotten in a hurry after a thriller at St. Mary's

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Raheem Sterling goal celebration

Match Report

Jadon Sancho celebrates his first England goal in what was a pulsating first half

Where to start?

England making it four wins from four in Euro Qualifying? A 34-second shock opener from Kosovo? An electrifying first-half performance from Raheem Sterling? Jadon Sancho's first Three Lions goals? The character and attitude shown by a determined and spirited Kosovan team? Take your pick...

And for the 31,000 fans at St. Mary’s, it was a night they won’t forget in a hurry as England and Kosovo’s first ever senior meeting proved to be every inch a thriller from the first minute to the last.

The Three Lions ran out as 5-3 winners in the end after an enthralling game ensured no-one could take their eyes off the action for a second, right from Kosovo’s early opener to England’s emphatic first-half response and then a tense second period in which there was no quarter asked or given from either team.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys team line up

Gareth Southgate had said in the build-up to this game that he thought Kosovo would be England’s biggest threat in Group 3 and the visitor’s display certainly backed up the manager’s claim.

Even at 5-1 down and leaving the pitch at half time shell-shocked from England’s clinical attacking play in the first half, the newly-formed nation bounced back in a second period which left the hosts with plenty to deal with.

The tempo swung back and forth by the second and the final score could’ve been either more emphatic or even tighter.

Thankfully for England though, their game management in the later stages ensured they played the match out to ensure their perfect start to EURO 2020 qualification continued.

It all started in the first minute, when the visitors were gifted a dream start after Michael Keane’s square pass across the back was intercepted by Vedat Muriqi. He slipped the ball across to Valon Berisha, who gleefully swept home past Jordan Pickford with just 34 seconds on the clock.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Sterling Goal

Keane didn’t allow that setback to affect him, and the Everton man helped England respond in the best possible way, nodding Ross Barkley’s corner back into the danger zone for Sterling to head home from close range seven minutes later.

That goal opened the floodgates as just over ten minutes later, the Three Lions were in front and this time the untouchable Sterling was the creator.

The Manchester City man spun Amir Rrahmani on the half way line to race into the Kosovan half before picking out Kane to his side. The captain made no mistake, shifting the ball onto his left foot before firing a low shot past Arijanet Muric to swing the game back in England’s favour.

They weren’t finished there either, as Sancho tricked his way down the right before fizzing a low cross into the area with the helpless Mergim Vojvoda unable to shift his body before bundling the ball into his own goal.

With half time approaching, Sancho then sealed a special moment for himself as he collected a slick pass from Sterling and drilled a low shot past Muric to register his first goal for England.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Harry Kane Celebration

And in stoppage time, the Dortmund youngster grabbed another as Sterling whistled past Vojvoda on the left before squaring to Sancho for a tap-in past an exposed Muric.

Kosovo didn’t let that affect them though and emerged for the second half in determined fashion, restoring some pride via the same combination of Muriqi and Berisha, with the former lifting a cross to the far post for the Lazio forward to control and fire past Pickford.

And they were given more impetus six minutes later, when Harry Maguire tripped Muriqi in the area to give away a penalty. Muriqi stepped up and calmly blasted past Pickford to give them even more hope.

Ten minutes later and there was another spot-kick, this time for England, after Barkley was tripped in the box by Besar Halimi. Kane stepped up, but Muric guessed right to make a fine save and keep the game alive.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Jadon Sancho goal

As England looked to kill the game off with a sixth, Muric was again on the spot, diverting Sterling’s shot onto the post with his leg to keep Kosovan dreams going into the final quarter of the game.

They almost pulled another back too, when Bersant Celina found the energy to break away with pace, cut inside and shoot narrowly wide of the post with four minutes remaining.

But with Mason Mount and Marcus Rashford providing fresh legs from the bench, England finished the game strongly and could still have added to their tally with Sterling and Rashford both seeing further shots saved by Muric.

It’s certainly a game which will live long in the memory and indeed the history books, but for Southgate and his side, the important aspect was victory and another step towards next summer.

England v Kosovo Southampton St Marys Harry Kane Goal

England: 1 Jordan Pickford (Everton), 2 Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), 3 Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), 4 Declan Rice (West Ham United), 5 Michael Keane (Everton), 6 Harry Maguire (Manchester United), 7 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), 8 Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 9 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) (c), 10 Ross Barkley (Chelsea), 11 Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)

Substitutes: 18 Mason Mount (Chelsea) for Barkley 83, 21 Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) for Sancho 85

Substitutes not used: 13 Tom Heaton (Aston Villa), 22 Nick Pope (Burnley), 12 Kieran Trippier (Atletic Madrid), 14 Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), 15 Joe Gomez (Liverpool), 16 Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), 17 Harry Winks (Tottenham Hotspur), 19 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool), 20 James Maddison (Leicester City), 23 Callum Wilson (AFC Bournemouth)

Manager: Gareth Southgate