Malta win is Southgate’s first step towards England job

Gareth Southgate is in the driving seat to become England’s next permanent manager and his case to replace Sam Allardyce was given a further boost with a victory in his first game in temporary charge.

The U21s boss, who has been appointed the senior team’s caretaker manager for four games, oversaw a 2-0 victory over Malta at Wembley to retain the Three Lions’ 100 per cent record in World Cup qualifying Group F.

In the first half in particular, Southgate’s men dealt with a deep and well-stocked opposition defence with intelligent movement off the ball and quick passing moves. It showed that the former Middlesbrough manager has the tactical nous to overcome what has often been England’s Achilles heel.

John Stones often stepped up to join the midfield during the first 45 minutes. That extra body allowed players like Jordan Henderson, who was awarded the Man of the Match, and Dele Alli the freedom to roam.

The former had a hand in both goals, while the latter scored the second of the match to effectively put the hosts out of sight.

Although the second period was more of a match-management exercise with another qualifying outing in Slovenia on Tuesday, there remained early positive signs for the Southgate regime.

After this double header against Malta and Slovenia, the 46-year-old will have two more home games, against Scotland and Spain, with which to convince the FA that he’s the man for the full-time job.

If his side continue to play like they did in the first half last night, it’ll be very difficult to push him aside.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.