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Molineux is ready for the main event on sold-out night

After the weekend dress rehearsal, comes the midweek main act.

England manager Gareth Southgate mulls his options at Wolves’ training base at Compton yesterday.
England manager Gareth Southgate mulls his options at Wolves’ training base at Compton yesterday.

Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Italy might have made more history as the first senior England men’s international at Molineux for 66 years but tonight’s clash with Hungary has always promised to be the grander occasion.

Gareth Southgate and around 3,000 schoolchildren doubtless wouldn’t agree, yet in some respects the Italy game being such a non-event felt appropriate. Better to save all the thrills for when there’s a proper crowd. Southgate, at least, will hope that is the outcome.

The England boss spoke yesterday of how the Molineux crowd would give his players a timely boost of energy for what is their final match of a long season. A man whose own playing career took him from south London to the Midlands and then the north-east knows all too well about the importance of the Three Lions hitting the road and meeting their public.

Southgate claimed to have sensed the excitement about England’s visit when watching matches at Molineux during the closing months of the season.

He explained: “When I have been to games in the lead up, to the stadium and in the streets nearby, people have been talking about it.

“When I have been in the ground they have been talking about it. You can see the excitement and enthusiasm has been there. That is great.

“It is a reminder of what the team can do. Even when we were driving to the game the other day (against Italy) there will people coming out to wave to the buses and things like that. You could feel that energy.”

There’s no question England’s Nations League campaign requires a shot in the arm. Southgate yesterday addressed topics of various importance, from efforts to make a stand on social issues ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, to the prospect of the wives and girlfriends of his players being the focus of a documentary during the tournament.

It is the subject of performances and results which is always most pressing, however. A return of just two points from three matches over the past 11 days had prompted some of the toughest criticism Southgate has faced for some time.

Just how fair that is, considering the competition and the issues of fatigue facing key players after lengthy domestic campaigns, may be debatable but a win tonight would undoubtedly ease some of the scrutiny, with just two more matches to come in September before England kick-off their World Cup Group B campaign against Iran on November 21.

Southgate has spoken previously how the schedule has made it necessary to manage priorities for the Nations League fixtures and echoed that again yesterday.

“The aim is to win the game, first of all,” he said. “But as you are aware, throughout this period there are several different objectives I am trying to achieve.

“I have players who are fresh and that could be important. The squad is important. There are definitely things we want and need to see. We have a different tactical challenge (against Hungary) tomorrow which every other team in the group and around Europe is finding difficult.

“There is a lot for us to take from the game.

“I have to say this group of players has been incredible. Their mentality, desire to play for England and work every day on the training pitch. We are very fortunate to have a group as committed as they are.”

Phil Foden could make his first appearance after returning to training but Southgate added: “We have to chat with our physical performance guys and our medical team. He is back into training but there is a reality about how much conditioning he’s had and what our expectations can be.”

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