John Stones’ reaction from his mistake in England’s 2-1 win over Poland impressed Gareth Southgate, while Kyle Walker said his Man City team-mate “probably wouldn’t have recovered” six months ago.
With England leading 1-0 thanks to Harry Kane’s first-half penalty, Stones dwelled on the ball and was dispossessed just outside his box, leading to Poland’s equaliser from Brighton’s Jakub Moder.
But Stones recovered to assist Harry Maguire for England’s winner, towering above his man from a Kalvin Phillips corner to nod the ball down for Maguire, who blasted past Wojciech Szczesny to secure England’s third win from three games in World Cup Qualifying.
Southgate admitted it would have been easy for Stones to “fold” in that situation, and was delighted by the City defender’s reaction.
Southgate said of Stones, who has had a superb second half to the season with Premier League leaders Manchester City: “What we’ve focused on in the last 18 months is eradicating those errors and in 14 matches we’ve conceded five, and of those, two were penalties in the autumn, one was a free kick. We knew that was an area we had to improve on.
“Tonight we’ve lost a goal – but the pleasing thing was John, in particular, regained his composure quickly, recovered in the game, and thankfully had an important part in the winning goal as well. He’s built a lot of resilience in that period. I didn’t think the pass to him helped, it brought more pressure on.
“It’s key – every player is going to make mistakes in games. Sometimes they’ll be punished and sometimes they won’t. What you’re looking for is that reaction to see how they respond. It would be easy to fold in those moments and John didn’t.
“That was an important factor in us staying in the game, as Poland ended up with a little bit of momentum, and a critical intervention in the other box to set up Harry for what was a brilliant volley.”
He earlier told Sky Sports: “We can’t hide from the mistake, but it’s easy to fold in those moments, and he didn’t. He saw the game through with his defending, and was able to have an impact with the winner at the other end, so I think John has come through a lot, and is a much tougher, more resilient character for it.”
Walker: Six months ago Stones may not have recovered
Stones’ City team-mate Walker was also full of praise for the centre-back, claiming that even six months ago he may not have recovered from the mistake in the manner he did.
“That just shows John’s character this year,” Walker told Sky Sports. “It’s been fantastic. I’ve worked with him day in, day out at City, and the work he’s put in to get to where he is now, the performances he’s showing.
“Six months ago, probably John Stones would have not recovered from that, but he goes up the other end and gets an assist for Harry Maguire’s winner.
“He’s been fantastic this season. That’s a credit to him, and the work he’s put in off the field, where nobody can see, when he’s gone home and done the extra gym, the extra strength work to get to where he is at now.”
Southgate singles out Rice for praise
West Ham’s Declan Rice, who has started nine of the last 10 of England’s games, was Sky Sports’ Man of the Match at Wembley, a performance that Southgate was keen to highlight.
“There are some young players doing fantastic things. I thought Declan Rice’s performances, across all of the games, his reading of danger, the number of recoveries he gets in front of that back four, but also how he used the ball and drove forward with it well… you forget how young and inexperienced some of those lads are.
“We know a lot of them are going to peak in two, four, six years’ time but we have to keep winning matches and building this team.
“What pleased me was we set a nine point objective, which isn’t easy with a tricky away game and tonight’s game against a good level opponent, and they’ve achieved that. I was really pleased with the way they worked together.
“The group that have been with us this week have been fantastic to work with, we’ve had a very calm week until tonight. We’re really pleased with the collective, their approach to everything, how they’ve supported each other and we’ve achieved the objective we set of nine points, which frankly a lot of big countries around Europe haven’t been able to do. I’m really pleased with what they’ve all done.”
Southgate not surprised by successful week
This was England’s last fixture before Southgate picks his squad for Euro 2020, but the manager insists there’s been nothing over the last three fixtures that have surprised him in a positive or negative sense.
“We’ve of course got some players, particularly in attacking areas, who are out at the moment who are going to come into the reckoning but we just don’t know what that’s going to look like. We’ve got another eight to 10 weeks of an intense season.
“Some players will be back from injury, unfortunately we’re likely to lose others through that period. That’s the reality. There’s a lot for us to think through but we’re pretty much where we knew we were. There’s not a lot over the last 10 days, good and bad, that’s surprised me.
“That shows we know our players, know where we’re at, know improvement is needed to be a top, top team, but today was a good test for us, in terms of the quality of our opponent and also our resilience.”
England play Austria (June 2) and Romania (June 6) in their Euro 2020 warm-up games, before kicking off the tournament against Croatia at Wembley on June 12 in the group stages.
Gareth Southgate must name his England squad for the tournament by 11pm on June 1, but he is expected to announce it before that date.