Gareth Southgate vows England players will continue taking knee after more boos
Gareth Southgate expected his England players to be jeered for taking the knee ahead of their win over Romania but again insisted they will continue to make the gesture going forward.
The Three Lions boss had asked for supporters not to boo the stance on the eve of this final Euro 2020 warm-up game at the Riverside Stadium but, as they did here on Wednesday night, a minority ignored Southgate’s pleas.
An experimental and inexperienced England earned a 1-0 victory over Romania through captain Marcus Rashford’s second-half penalty but it was the pre-match reaction which again lingered over the contest.
Jordan Henderson’s return to action as a second-half substitute was marred by a penalty miss of his own, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jadon Sancho both hit the crossbar.
Southgate and his players agreed on the decision to continue to take the knee as a gesture against racism and inequality despite the recent incidents, and he explained after the win that the stance will not change.
“I think I sadly sort of expected what happened to happen,” he said.
“We’ve accepted that, as a group. It isn’t going to stop what we are doing and what we believe. It certainly isn’t going to stop my support for our players and our staff.
“That’s it, we are going to have to live with that. We’ve said what we are going to say now.
“You are right to ask the question today but moving forward, it is pointless me going into any further detail on that.”
Rashford, who captained England for the first time, echoed his manager’s sentiments, telling ITV: “It is something we cannot control.
“For us it is the right thing to do so we are going to continue to do it.”
On the pitch, it was another laboured display from an England side unable to include the seven players who featured in last weekend’s Champions League final.
Jack Grealish impressed once again, while James Ward-Prowse staked his claim to be the man called up to replace the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold in Southgate’s 26-man squad for the Euros.
“Prowsey’s professionalism and approach all week, given the disappointment of being left out, has been first class, absolutely first class,” Southgate said.
“The decision won’t necessarily be about the performances from (Sunday’s match) as such, it is going to be positional really and the area where we feel we might need the most cover.”
Southgate’s decision will be announced on Monday, with the squad heading to St George’s Park to begin preparations for the European Championship opener against Croatia six days later.
Liverpool skipper Henderson will use the time to try and prove his fitness, having played for the first time in 106 days after undergoing groin surgery.
He took the captain’s armband from Rashford when the goalscorer was replaced and made the call to step up and take the second penalty of the evening himself.
Southgate admitted he thought Calvert-Lewin would have been the taker, adding: “Marcus and James Ward-Prowse were the two nominated at the start of the game.
“Of course they both came off, so I’d have to say I was expecting Dominic to take it at that point. But Hendo was the captain on the field by then and was the one to make the decision.
“He’s been a very positive influence around the camp with the group. It’s a step forward for him physically today, which was important in order for him to be able to play some sort of part in the tournament.”
Harry Maguire was unable to feature in either warm-up game as he aims to recover from ankle ligament damage and play at some stage of the tournament – but Southgate also offered a positive update his progress with the Manchester United captain now running.
Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka was the match-winner against Austria on Wednesday but was not included in the squad as Southgate confirmed he had a slight issue.
“He has a minor hip flexor injury,” the England boss added.
“So we’re hoping he should train by the middle of the week and then we’ll assess that day by day. But it is not one that we’re concerned about.”