Gareth Southgate refused to single out Harry Kane for criticism after the striker was substituted during England’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Hungary at Wembley on Tuesday night.
England, who can secure qualification for the 2022 World Cup by picking up four points from the games against Albania and San Marino next month, struggled for invention against resilient opponents and the focus fell on Kane after his run of scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers came to an end.
The Tottenham forward, who is yet to score in the Premier League this season, has been out of sorts since failing to secure a move to Manchester City last summer and Southgate was forced to defend his captain after replacing him with Tammy Abraham in the 76th minute.
“I just think tonight we didn’t play as well as a team as we should and we can,” England’s manager said. “In the end we need to refresh that and get fresh legs into the game. With any of the forward players there’s always a story when we take them off.
“They’re big players. We have to have a team able to do that. We felt it was the right thing at the time. I don’t think singling out any players is fair because we’re all responsible for that.”
England, who lead Poland by three points at the top of Group I, struggled to create chances despite Phil Foden and Mason Mount starting in front of Declan Rice in an attacking midfield.
Hungary went ahead thanks to an early penalty from Roland Sallai, which was cancelled out by John Stones before half-time, and Southgate was concerned with how many times his side were caught out on the break.
Southgate rang the changes in the second half, reverting to a back three after removing Kane, Raheem Sterling and a frustrated Jack Grealish. He felt that his players had paid for an anxious, sloppy start.
“I think we wanted to try and get a spark,” Southgate said. “We’d struggled to create many clear chances. We hoped that some freshness at the end of the game might produce that. We changed the system.
“We were open in counterattacks and we had to solidify from that. We hadn’t opened them up with 4-3-3, so to try with two No10s inside and two wing-backs, we wanted to pose them a different problem. It stopped the problem with counterattack but we weren’t able to improve.”
Southgate, who said that Rice had too much to do in central midfield, has been under pressure to play a more attacking midfield. “We’ve been playing 4-3-3 a lot but with a different profile of No8s,” he said.
“We wanted to look at something different. We didn’t have Kalvin Phillips anyway. We knew we’d have to break a packed defence down. In actual fact I’m not sure it was profile of the players that was the issue in terms of breaking them down. We just didn’t play with the fluidity and individual level of performance we’ve come to appreciate and expect.”