Gareth Southgate hopes England’s gutsy performances against Germany and Brazil have helped build bridges with a sceptical public.
Little more than a month ago the Three Lions wrapped up a successful World Cup qualifying campaign with two largely joyless 1-0 wins over Slovenia and Lithuania.
Both matches were met with indifference by fans while manager Southgate admitted he was eager to see more engaging football from his players.
The November friendlies may not have yielded a goal, but Southgate threw caution to the wind by selecting a total of six debutants against the world’s top two sides and was rewarded with the kind of whole-hearted displays which can win back the stands.
“They played with pride and with passion. I would hope there’s a little more of a connection, it feels like a little connection between supporters and the team.
When you play teams of that quality you are going to have to defend and soak it up. We are a team who can counter-attack and there’s no disgrace to that.
“We could have put these young players in, get beaten by four and then you’re questioning the decision, but they really stepped up. As a group they’ve given their all and that will stand them in really good stead moving forward.”
Joe Gomez earned the man-of-the-match award on his full debut, matching the achievement of Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the Germany game four days earlier.
Both men have pushed their way to the front of Southgate’s thoughts for next year’s World Cup but Loftus-Cheek was forced off in the first half against Brazil with a familiar fitness problem.
As a player who suffered severe growing pains in his youth and has never played a full season of first-team football, there are more questions over his durability for tournament football than his talent. “I think we’re going to have to give him time to build his resilience,” said Southgate.
“It’s a problem with his back which he has had periodically. He’s already played more minutes this season than he did the whole of last season and inevitably that is going to be a bit of a response to that. The 10 days overall are a massive stride forward for him.”
At the other end of the experience spectrum, there was a heartening outing for 75-cap goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Amid so many fresh faces, he played the role of seasoned veteran and made a couple of important saves.
With Jordan Pickford making an eye-catching bow against Germany and Jack Butland also challenging, it was a timely response.
On the battle for the number one shirt, Southgate said: “Joe knows there is competition for places with three or four goalkeepers. Now it’s up to what they do with their clubs for the next few months.
“We are delighted with what Jordan did and we were then able to wrap him up and send him back to his club with a really good experience. What he does with his feet gives us something different but there’s also stuff to work on and improve.
“He’s a young pro learning his trade and it’s important I keep challenging him.”