Middlesbrough (United Kingdom) (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate admitted the boos that met his side taking the knee ahead of Sunday’s 1-0 friendly win over Romania in Middlesbrough sadly came as no surprise.
There was a similar reaction to the Three Lions performing the gesture against racial injustice before Wednesday’s clash against Austria, which also took place at the Riverside Stadium.
Southgate made an impassioned plea on Saturday for fans to respect the players’ stand on the issue, but insisted England will continue to take the knee before kick-off in all of their matches at Euro 2020 no matter the reaction.
A crowd of 22,000 will attend all three of their group games at Wembley with restrictions still in place on the number of supporters allowed to attend due to coronavirus restrictions.
Taking the knee, initially performed by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has become commonplace in top level football matches over the past year.
However, the vast majority of those matches have been behind closed doors.
“I sadly expected what happened to happen,” said Southgate. “It’s not going to stop what we are doing or what we believe or my support for our players and staff.
“We’re going to have to live with that. Moving forward it’s pointless me going into any further detail on it.”
Once the action got underway, Marcus Rashford’s penalty earned an unconvincing win after Southgate named an experimental team.
Five players who are not part of his final squad for the European Championship made an appearance at some point in the game.
There is still one place up for grabs in Southgate’s 26-man squad due to an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold.
James Ward-Prowse, Ben Godfrey and Ben White were all given the chance to further their case from the start, while Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins came off the bench in the second-half.
Ward-Prowse did the most to justify a place in the squad with an all-action display in midfield and the Southampton skipper’s delivery from set-pieces was also on show.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin powered his in-swinging free-kick against the crossbar before Jadon Sancho also struck the woodwork.
At the other end Sam Johnstone had an impressive England debut as he made a smart save from Nicole Stanciu to ensure Southgate’s men did not trail at the break.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson made his return from 106 days out injured at half-time for a much-needed 45 minutes for his match fitness.
Jack Grealish was England’s one constant menace as the Romanians repeatedly resorted to hauling down the Aston Villa man.
However, that tactic cost them the only goal when Grealish was clipped by Tiberiu Capusa as he broke into the box.
Rashford, who became the 125th man to captain England, took responsibility from the spot to send Florin Nita the wrong way.
Johnstone then had to make a stunning stop to earn his clean sheet by turning Andrei Ivan’s fierce effort over.
Henderson took the captain’s armband from Rashford and also took control of penalty taking duties 12 minutes from time with the Manchester United forward having been replaced by Lingard.
Calvert-Lewin wanted the ball after he was chopped down by Vlad Chiriches, but Henderson pulled rank.
However, he is still waiting to score his first international goal after 59 caps as Nita made a good save low to his right.
“We were expecting Dominic to take it, I’ll see what Hendo’s thought process was,” added Southgate. “Maybe we will pull rank next time.”
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