Gareth Southgate reached the midway point in his four-game tenure as England manager on a torrid night in Slovenia – still searching for the compelling evidence that will land him the full-time job.
The 46-year-old walked into a team and a Football Association in turmoil following the hasty departure of predecessor Sam Allardyce after just 67 days, one game and conduct regarded as unbecoming for his position.
Southgate was never going to apply a quick fix and how it showed as England leaned heavily on the brilliance of goalkeeper Joe Hart and large slices of luck to scrape
The FA will not consider the next step in its succession plan until after England’s next qualifier against Scotland at Wembley on 11 November and the home friendly against Spain four days later.
This gives Southgate the opportunity to get the big result he needs so momentum can gather in his favour after two colourless, largely disappointing displays in the 2-0 home win over Malta and the draw in Slovenia.
Southgate – highly regarded within the FA for his work with England Under-21s – has looked and sounded the part. If the FA was searching for someone to restore dignity after the turbulence surrounding Allardyce’s departure, he is the perfect fit.
The former England defender has been impressive in all aspects off the pitch since taking interim charge.
He has handled himself in the calm, assured manner for which he is known. He took the ruthless decision to drop captain Wayne Rooney, a player he figured alongside for England and someone he spoke glowingly about before leaving him on the sidelines in Slovenia.
And he was also impressive as he sat alongside Rooney in Ljubljana after making that landmark decision the night before the game, dealing with the inevitable inquest with a mixture of sensitivity and authority.
In this part of the equation he secures full marks – where work still needs to be done is in the more important area of performances and results.
The Malta victory was job done, albeit in an attritional manner against a team intent on avoiding a thrashing, while Slovenia was more a case of ‘welcome to the real world’ as England struggled to find any rhythm or purpose against a team ranked 67th in the world alongside Burkina Faso.