England hoped to regain some momentum from this torrid 11-day Uefa Nations League sequence and instead suffered their worst defeat for 12 years. Hungary showed their hosts how to deploy a clinical game-plan by netting four of their five shots on target to humble and embarrass Gareth Southgate’s side.
In relation to the Nations League, this defeat means that England can be relegated from the top tier when they next take to the field against Italy in September. But there is more to consider than the drop from Group A3. Just two games out from the start of the World Cup, such a sorry night is far from ideal.
A defeat of this manner had been brewing; had Germany been closer to their best in Munich or Italy more adventurous on Saturday, England may be looking at four successive losses and by sizeable margins too. Irrespective of ifs and maybes, England have now failed to win in four consecutive games for the first time in eight years and it represents the worst spell of Southgate’s six-year tenure.
Recent showings highlighted that England are jaded and not quite themselves; positivity and momentum have ebbed away, as have the team’s eye for goal — it’s now over six hours without a goal from open play. And despite having much of the ball for this contest against Marco Rossi’s well-organised team, they struggled to make an impact.
There are legitimate concerns about England’s off-colour but equally there are mitigations. These four games have come at the end of a gruelling 10-month campaign and players are physically and mentally spent. As a consequence, Southgate has rested and rotated to the detriment of proper planning ahead of Qatar. Possibly the manager is overcomplicating things; switching formations at a whim, deploying players out of position and not nailing down the team that will start against Iran.
England’s dreadful evening, which will linger long into the summer, was exposed in the final ten minutes when Hungary scored twice to add to Roland Sallai's double, John Stones was harshly sent off and Harry Maguire arrived to the sound of boos. By the end, the Hungarians were in dreamland having eased to only their second win in England.
The shouts directed at Southgate from the Molineux crowd were of the ‘Don’t know what you’re doing’ and ‘Getting sacked in the morning’ nature, but it’s worth remembering what he has achieved with England. Yet he, as well as anyone, will know that things can unravel just as quick in football.
Story of the game
Nine changes were made by Southgate from the team who drew a blank with Italy on Saturday. The manager’s hand being forced in the search for ‘energy and fresh legs. Conor Gallagher got his first run-out of these Nations League fixtures and was stationed behind Jarrod Bowen on the right side of England’s 4-3-3 set-up.
Harry Kane was also back in the starting lineup and the England captain was involved in the home side’s first attack on five minutes. Reece James, playing in the unfamiliar left back berth, came in off the flank, played a one-two with Kane before picking out Bowen, who couldn’t direct his header at the back post.
It was a bright start from Southgate’s men but Hungary had shown their credentials during the 1-0 triumph in Budapest and found themselves leading here after 16 minutes. Rossi’s team were awarded a free-kick after Kalvin Phillips fouled close to his own area. It was swung diagonally into the box where Stones could only skim a header towards Sallai. Kane’s air-kick allowed the Hungary striker to take a touch before thrashing a shot which was unstoppable for Aaron Ramsdale, starting his second successive game for the national team.
Despite the breakthrough coming against the run of play, England didn’t heed the danger the visitors posed from set-pieces with James clearing Dominik Szoboszlai’s goal-bound free-kick off the line.
Only when Bowen, Gallagher or Jude Bellingham ran at Hungary’s compact back-line did the Molineux crowd feel they were getting value for money. As has been the case throughout England’s recent games, end product was often missing. It was surely part of the reason why Bowen was replaced by Raheem Sterling at the break and Gallagher made way for Mason Mountten minutes into the new half.
England shuffled into a 3-4-3 in an attempt to unshackle themselves but the discontent emanating from most of the crowd only grew as they watched their team play at a snail’s pace. Bellingham offered the brightest spark — he should have done better when Gallagher swung a delivery towards him late in the opening half — but his marauding movements were often checked by Hungary’s organised defence.
The closest the home side came was when Kane sent a looping header against the crossbar and Willi Orban brought a save out of his own goalkeeper. That was the extent of England’s threat.
Phillips was experiencing a forgettable evening and he was ambushed from a Hungary throw when substitute Martin Adam took the ball from him on 70 minutes and ran through England’s broken defence before squaring for Sallai to dispatch his second goal of the match. Low and behold it would only get worse for England.
Stones blocked Loic Nego’s header after Hungary had quickly switched play but the ball fell for Zsolt Nagy, who hammered in a shot from the edge of the penalty area. That was ten minutes from time and shortly afterwards Stones was dismissed for a second bookable offence but it appeared that Daniel Gazdag ran into the England defender.
It was Gazdag who pilled more misery on the hosts when he led another Hungary breakaway and latched onto a through ball. Ramsdale advanced only for the Philadelphia Union midfielder to dink a finish over the forlorn goalkeeper and send England to their biggest home defeat since 1928.
England: Ramsdale; James, Stones, Guehi, Walker; Gallagher (Mount 56), Phillips, Bellingham (Foden 68); Bowen (Sterling 46), Kane, Saka (Maguire 85).
Subs (not used): Pickford, Pope, Trippier, Coady, Ward-Prowse, Rice, Grealish, Abraham.
Hungary: Disuse; Lang, Orban, Szalai; Fiola, Schafer, Styles (A Nagy, 56), Z Nagy; Sallai (Nego 78), Szalai (Adam 68), Szoboszlai (Gazdag 56).
Subs (not used): Szappanos, Kecskes, Spandler, Kerkez, Vecsei, Schon, Bolla.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).