Gareth Southgate impressed by Demarai Gray's 'super debut'

Saturday 26 Mar 2016
Gareth Southgate reflects on a draw in Switzerland
Gareth Southgate expressed mixed emotions after England Under-21s secured a draw with Switzerland in Thun on Saturday night.

The Young Lions are three points clear at the top of Group 9 with three games left to play – and were deserved leaders when Chuba Akpom converted a cross from the outstanding Demarai Gray.

England 1-1 Switzerland

UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifying Group 9
Arena Thun, Switzerland
6pm (GMT) 27 March 2016
Live on BT Sport 1

But England conceded immediately after seeing an Akpom shot cleared off the line, and when Switzerland fought back thoughts turned to what might have been.

Southgate said: “I'm not quite sure [how to feel]. We spoke beforehand and we wanted to come here and get three points, and once we went to 1-1 I think we managed the game well.”

England defeated second-place Switzerland 3-1 at home in November, and Southgate had earmarked this fixture as his side’s toughest.

“It would have been easy to panic and fly forward but we had a long discussion last night about different scenarios and we didn’t have to take risks because the head-to-head is in our favour," he said.

“We are disappointed to not win, but if I am looking at it from a development perspective then we got a lot out of it, and there have been a lot of encouraging individual performances.”

Gray had a hand in most of England’s best chances, tormenting the home defence, and leaving Southgate feeling vindicated in handing the Leicester City flier his first start at this level.

“We sensed that it was a good moment for Demarai in the way that he trained – it was a super debut,” he said.

“He was a threat all night and I think the work he did at the goal was exceptional but he also put a real shift in for the team and did his work off the ball.

“I thought the two central midfield players were really mature in the way that they played and controlled the game.

“Kortney [Hause] was a plus as again it was a debut and it's not always easy for a defender on that kind of surface.”

Southgate was sympathetic towards Jordon Ibe, who was sent off for a second bookable offence during second-half added-time and will serve a one-match suspension. 

Demarai Gray on the ball for England

Demarai Gray on the ball for England

He said: “It was justified. There were a few bookings given in the game for players being tugged back and both incidents were similar.

“Players at this age go through peaks and troughs – he doesn't look full of confidence at the moment but we have to try and get him to the level that we think he is capable of achieving.”

He added: “We had really good chances to score more than we did. The margins of winning... a better ball to Chuba and he probably scores when it is cleared off the line and then we don't defend the counter-attack at all well.

“That is the nature of the age group we are working with [and] I don't think we can underestimate the lack of [club] playing time for some of these lads.

“To come here without the experience of [Nathaniel] Chalobah and [Nathan] Redmond it is not a bad result at all.”

England return to action in September when they take on Norway and Bosnia at home, before finishing the qualification campaign in October with a trip to Kazakhstan.

By James Callow Content manager