Gareth Southgate: Has England interim manager done enough for permanent job?
Gareth Southgate passed the most vital stage of his audition to be England manager as his side eased to a World Cup qualifying win over Scotland at Wembley.
Southgate was effectively handed a four-game trial period by the Football Association after the abrupt end to Sam Allardyce's 67-day spell in charge.
And the meeting with 'The Auld Enemy' at Wembley was always going to be the defining moment when it came to measuring Southgate's suitability to take England towards the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
So, after a 3-0 win that soothed concerns following the drab goalless draw in Slovenia, is Southgate now a certainty for England's top job on a permanent basis?
- Southgate should be full-time England boss - Rooney
- How the players rated
- Football Daily podcast: Scotland 'gave everything' against England
Southgate passes his biggest test
It is a fair bet the FA's decision-makers will have had everything crossed for an uneventful, victorious night at Wembley as they consider the decision on England's next manager.
And as chairman Greg Clarke and chief executive Martin Glenn made their retreat from Wembley, there was every chance that what they had seen in a routine England win had made up their minds.
The 46-year-old Southgate, who has built his reputation within the FA with his work with the England Under-21 team, is the obvious and favoured choice to calm the turbulence that followed the conclusion of Allardyce's short reign.
Southgate has the background of working at St George's Park, won the Toulon tournament with the under-21s and is the sort of measured, mature personality who is regarded as a good fit to take England forward.
All he needed to do was win some football matches during his short audition.
And, by any measure, this 3-0 win will probably prove enough to seal the deal, even after a performance that never rose above average against a poor Scotland team.
There was nothing revolutionary about Southgate's England on this night, nothing to send their fans out of Wembley with an extra spring in their step - but he showed enough of a sure touch to make his coronation little more than a formality.
Southgate chose well when it came to deciding between Daniel Sturridge and Harry Kane. He showed understanding to resist the temptation to throw the Spurs striker in after only 72 minutes of action at Arsenal following a seven-week absence, despite the obvious attractions of his goalscoring ability.
He went for Sturridge, short of action at Liverpool but fit and determined to prove his worth. He was rewarded with a fine opening goal from the striker to settle any nerves Southgate and England might have been feeling.
Southgate brought Wayne Rooney back in as captain and a steadying influence after dropping him in Slovenia, although that decision was made much easier by Dele Alli's injury. It was a conservative team selection, with players Southgate knew he could rely on - but the end justified the means.
England's ploy of playing out from the back looked like an alien activity for much of the first half, but this was a night when the result was everything for both team and manager.
The smart money was on victory assuring Southgate of his elevation to England manager - should he be happy with the terms of reference of course - and the only questions might have been posed if they had failed to beat a Scotland team who have won just 11 of their past 32 qualifiers, drawing eight and losing 13.
England have had no trouble racking up qualifying victories, winning 24 and drawing eight of their past 32. This meant victory was essential to ensure Southgate's credibility was not damaged and to make life much easier for the FA.
This can be regarded as mission accomplished.
- Strachan left licking Wembley wounds
- Scotland boss Strachan refuses to be drawn on future
- Listen: Strachan isn't the problem for Scotland - Nevin
A successful three-game job interview
England's win against Scotland means that Southgate and the FA can tick all the boxes after this three-game public interview for the manager's job.
Southgate, as was his intention, has left England top of their group after the three qualifiers he has overseen - with this game the most important - while also looking a perfect fit off the pitch after the fiasco of Allardyce's departure.
Results in competitive games are ultimately the only currency Southgate has to deal in, but he has also shown a sure touch off the field which has greatly impressed the FA.
Southgate dealt diplomatically and calmly with the landmark decision to drop Rooney for the last qualifier in Slovenia. He showed a sensitivity and understanding to the Manchester United forward's reputation and feelings, with the deposed captain even feeling comfortable enough to sit alongside the man who had excluded him at the pre-match news conference.
If the FA needed evidence of how Southgate would handle a potentially incendiary issue, this was it. It was a pressure point and the former Middlesbrough manager proved he had the confidence and self-belief not just to make the big decision, but to handle the fallout in an assured manner.
Southgate has also looked at ease with the pressures of managing England. The real pinch points will come in the heat of a tournament, but he has performed impressively so far.
The players have also looked at ease with Southgate around the England camp. He looks like the sort of figure, 20 years younger than Allardyce and his predecessor Roy Hodgson, who may well be more on the wavelength of younger players, such as Manchester City's 21-year-old winger Raheem Sterling.
FA chairman Clarke wrote in the match programme notes, looking ahead to the period after this game: "We then have a break until next March and, as we have said, we will consider our options for the permanent England manager's role. I must again pay tribute to Gareth for his professionalism and diligent work."
A clue? It read like one. It is unlikely Clarke's high opinion of Southgate would have been decreased by England's biggest win over Scotland in 41 years.
If this was an examination, Southgate's three games would probably have earned him a seven out of 10 - and that is likely to mean a pass mark from the FA.
Does the FA need to act now - or could it wait?
Southgate's four-game spell in temporary charge ends after Tuesday's friendly against Spain (20:00 GMT kick-off), where a win would simply strengthen his case and anything else is unlikely to have any impact on the decision-making process.
As Clarke stated, the FA does now have this gap and a period of grace before a friendly away to World Cup holders Germany in March.
All roads appear to be leading to an announcement that Southgate has got the job well before then - but should the FA take advantage of that break to explore every other option?
BBC Sport pundit and former Scotland international Pat Nevin insists there should be no hurry on the FA's part.
He said: "Why do you have to give him the job now? There is no reason to do it. Wait until the summer and you have all sorts of options, one being Gareth still.
"England are going through anyway but you might be turning down the opportunity to get Arsene Wenger or someone of that ilk."
Should the FA decide to wait, which seems unlikely, then Southgate may well wonder why. Would it be a signal that the FA still harbours doubts about his capability? Would that effect his willingness to take the job?
And a wait for Wenger is a gamble. There is no guarantee the Frenchman would accept, with Arsenal still very much his complete commitment and a growing likelihood he will sign a new contract at Emirates Stadium.
After the shock to the FA's system brought about by the speed and manner of Allardyce's departure, Southgate represents the candidate of stability and continuity, complete with FA background and the sort of character that is their ideal for the footballing figurehead of the organisation.
And that quick appointment is still the most likely outcome.
|Recent England managerial records|