Gareth Southgate: England must make sure mentality and discipline are right
Gareth Southgate told England’s players to keep their cool after warning them of the hostile atmosphere in Montenegro and possibility of flares landing on the pitch.
Just 70 hours after kicking off Euro 2020 qualification with a 5-0 win against the Czech Republic, the Three Lions will look to continue their winning start to Group A in the Balkans.
England are looking for their first victory in Montenegro after drawing their previous two matches at the cramped, intimidating Gradski Stadion in Podgorica.
Wayne Rooney was sent off in a 2-2 draw in 2011, with goalkeeper Joe Hart hit by a variety of items as it ended 1-1 in another intense draw two years later.
Worse was to follow in 2015 in a game involving Russia, who UEFA awarded a 3-0 walkover win after a flare hit goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. That Euro 2016 qualifier had to be abandoned and Montenegro were hit with a stadium ban.
“I was here the last time England played, so I know the passion that the supporters have here for their country,” said England manager Southgate, who was working in Montenegro as a pundit for ITV six years ago.
“Of course, that gives a huge lift to their own team. But that’s the sort of challenge our players have faced many times before.
“We have to make sure our mentality and discipline are right, and we focus on the things we can affect.”
Southgate was keen not to inflame matters – “we’re guests here, so we’ll be very respectful about how we speak about the opposition,” he told the press conference – but England’s players have been made aware of what lies in store.
“First and foremost, you’re talking about tactical aspects, but we did think it was important to prepare them for the environment they’re going into,” the Three Lions boss told BBC Radio 5 live.
“Kyle Walker has played here before, he’s the only player in the squad that has, so he was able to speak about that.
“But of course, other experienced players either with their clubs or England have played in hostile environments and intense environments, so we talked about that.
“We talked about the fact that in the past there have been flares on the pitch here and how that should be approached, so you’re building a picture of what they can expect so it’s not a surprise if it happens.”
Maintaining composure will be key if England are to record their first ever win in Montenegro, with Southgate pointing to the streetwise edge shown in the World Cup last-16 clash against combative Colombia as the example to follow.
“Absolutely,” Southgate said. “There have been too many occasions in the past where we’ve had red cards.
“It’s very difficult to win matches if you’re down to 10 men, so that’s been a mantra for us from when we first started, frankly.
“We’ve had games like Colombia in the World Cup where the provocation was at an extreme level and we dealt with it really well and we’ve got to make sure we do that tomorrow.”
England will be cheered on by 690 hardy fans at the Gradski Stadion, where Southgate plans to make changes that allows him to balance freshness and continuity.
Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli are among the players that the Three Lions will check on on Monday morning, while Declan Rice, Callum Hudson-Odoi and James Ward-Prowse are pushing for first senior starts.
“I think you need some experience but also this is where these young players learn,” Southgate added.
“We don’t have a friendly for another 12 months so we’re going to blood them in the team, then we’re going to have to do it in international qualifiers.
“We’ll learn a lot more about them, they’ll learn a lot about international football, and they had one type of experience on Friday night, which was a really positive one and a smooth one.
“Now they’ve got to make sure they’re ready and adaptable to a different sort of challenge.”