Gareth Southgate has done a lot of things right since becoming England manager in 2016.
He took over a Three Lions side at its lowest ebb, fresh off of a humiliating tournament exit at the hands of a country with a smaller population than Bristol, and a scandal involving a pint of wine.
England are unrecognisable from that omnishambles these days, reaching a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final under Southgate. A golden generation of players has played a significant role in this rise, sure, but the manager deserves huge credit too.
His statesman-like media handling, modern man management and even his much-maligned pragmatic tactics have all contributed to this turnaround.
However, incredibly really when you realise we are only a few months removed from the Euro 2020 final, the jury is still out on Southgate. His critics are always looking for a stick to beat him with and while the majority of this negativity is unwarranted, the naysayers would have had a field day when watching England stutter to a 1-1 draw against Poland on Wednesday night.
One of the principle criticism of Southgate is his lack of ability to make tactical tweaks on the fly. Back in the 2018 World Cup semi-final this was evident with the England bench watching on as Croatia got more and more joy in the half spaces against the Three Lions’ wing-backs.
Lo and behold, it would eventually come back to bite them when Croatia’s pressure resulted in an equaliser – and then an extra-time winner.
The Euros final was a similar story. After blitzing Italy early on, Roberto Mancini tweaked things to give Italy more control while Southgate’s charges remained happy to cling onto their lead – going on to lose on penalties.
It was more of the same against Poland, albeit in far less momentous circumstances. After Harry Kane had produced a moment a magic to give his side a scarcely deserved lead, Poland swiftly made three substitutes – having already made two changes previously – in an attempt to press the living daylights out of their passive opponents.
This injection of energy could have been counteracted by Southgate making his own alterations. However, despite possessing a bench containing the likes of Bukayo Saka, Jesse Lingard and a myriad of other Premier League stars, no substitutions were made.
The tiredness in England’s legs was laid bare for Poland’s equaliser with Jakub Moder taking advantage of Kyle Walker’s mental fatigue, dancing around the Manchester City man and crossing into the box.
The resulting strike may have been blocked but the ball soon fell for Robert Lewandowski. Barely closed down by Kalvin Phillips – did tiredness play a part here? – he was afforded all the time in the world to pick out Damian Szymanski, who headed home the stoppage-time equaliser.
Szymanski fresh legs helped him easily rise above Luke Shaw at the back post and end England’s 100% winning start to the Euros.
At the end of the day, these dropped points do not matter with the Three Lions only needing to beat Albania, San Marino and Andorra to qualify.
What it did show, though, was Southgate’s lack of proactivity on the touchline. Instead of stifling Poland’s renewed vigour with his own subs he remained passive. It was another example of the tactical naivety that has already cost England dearly in the past.