Maybe Gareth Southgate was watching a different game.
‘I felt the performance was good, the mentality was excellent and we totally controlled the game,’ he said.
‘The way they defended and the pitch didn’t make it easy to find the final pass.
The England head coach reacted with disdain on Monday when asked about the prospect of his team decelerating here in Skopje.
And while he may not be willing to admit it publicly, this performance was exactly what he feared.
In his heart of hearts, he’ll know his team fell under what is required here in North Macedonia on Monday night.
England failed to end their qualifying campaign on a high as they drew with North Macedonia
Harry Kane came off the bench to help force an equaliser but England couldn’t find a winner
North Macedonia (3-5-2): Dimitrievski 6; Manev 7, Serafimov 7, Musilu 7; Dimoski 6.5 (Ashkovski 86), Bardhi 7, Atanasov 6.5 (Elezi 90), Alimi 6.5 (Kostadinov 75), Alioski 6.5; Miovski 6.5 (Ristovski 75), Elmas 6.5.
Subs: Aleksovski, Shishkovski, Iljazovski, Ademi, Churlinov, Mitroviski, Elezi, Daci, Todoroski. Booked: Elmas
England (4-2-3-1): Pickford 6.5; Walker 6, Maguire 5, Guehi 6.5, Lewis 6.5; Alexander-Arnold 5.5 (Phillips 84), Rice 6.5; Saka 6.5 (Palmer 84), Foden 7, Grealish 7 (Rashford 84); Watkins 4 (Kane 58, 6.5).
Subs: Johnstone, Ramsdale, Tomori, Henderson, Phillips, Gallagher, Konsa, Rashford, Palmer, Kane.
Referee: Filip Glova (SVK) – 6
England required the cavalry – shaped in the form of Harry Kane – to dig themselves out of a rather embarrassing hole.
The captain was on the pitch 40 seconds before forcing Jani Atanasov into heading past his own goalkeeper to level for England after a first-half to forget.
The leveller spared a more profound fall-out from England’s final Euro 2024 qualifier.
With their path to Euro 2024 as group winners already assured, there was very little jeopardy to inspire England players here.
But if Southgate stays true to his word, he won’t accept that as an excuse following this uninspiring display.
Insipid at best. They’ll need to do much better if they are to pull up any trees in Germany next summer.
There were some positives; the performance of Rico Lewis on his full debut a real reason for optimism.
The fact England end their qualification campaign undefeated should be celebrated, too.
But the harsh reality of football is that you’re only as good as your last game. And England simply weren’t up to scratch.
Much of the game resembled an attack versus defence training drill. England probing, keeping the ball efficiently as they sought to breakdown North Macedonia’s jam-packed defence.
England twice went close within the space of a minute; first Declan Rice’s drilled effort from the edge of the box struck Stole Dimitrievski’s post in the 14th minute before Ollie Watkins, in the team instead of Kane, horribly mistimed a free header from Phil Foden’s cross.
Yet, despite their dominance in terms of possession England’s start lacked verve and intent – the sort of deficiencies Southgate insisted he wouldn’t accept ahead of kick-off.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions still ended their campaign undefeated and will be in Pot 1
Rico Lewis was extremely unfortunate to give away a penalty on his senior international debut
Harry Maguire’s dreadful mistake in the 22nd minute nearly gifted North Macedonia a shock lead but Eljif Elmas failed to take advantage before England survived a nervy penalty call after the Manchester United defender tried to atone for his original error.
Southgate rose from his chair in the away dugout to survey the scene in the 26th minute. This wasn’t what he’d ordered following Friday’s dull 2-0 win over Malta.
Lewis was enjoying an impressive start to life as an England football and Foden impressed in cameos.
But this was more passive than assertive. It wasn’t that anyone was playing particularly poorly but rather with no gusto or swagger.
So you could predict what was coming. And the moment North Macedonians could dreamt of arrived in the final five minutes of the first half.
Inevitably VAR was involved. The incident that eventually led to Filip Glova pointing to the spot appeared harsh on Lewis, who caught Bojan Miovski in the face with an arm as he leapt to clear.
The 18-year-old was adjudged to have committed a foul as he headed the ball out of danger
Jordan Pickford saved Enis Bardhi’s penalty but the ball rebounded straight into his path
The No 9 collapsed to the floor, albeit rather theatrically. The Slovakian official decided there was enough contact to award the penalty after inspecting his screen.
The stadium and home players were jubilant, England’s players stood perplexed.
At second glance, the decision appeared harsh. There was no intent from Lewis whatsoever. But who knows nowadays.
‘I’ve got nothing to say about it, which probably tells you what I think about it,’ said Southgate.
The drama wasn’t over. As a hush fell over the Tose Proeski Stadium in anticipation of the frenzy to follow, the home supporters didn’t count on Jordan Pickford’s abilities from the spot.
England’s No 1 saved Enis Bardhi’s penalty to become the first England keeper to save from the spot in 10 years.
Bardhi made no mistake with the rebound to give his side a surprise lead on Monday night
Captain Kane and his team-mates make their way back to their half after levelling the scores
But there was nothing Pickford could do about Bardhi’s follow-up as the stadium erupted. What a moment for them.
A big moment for England, too. But for different reasons.
They mustered a response, Lewis forcing Dimitrievski into a comfort save with England’s first shot on target in injury time before a subdued Trent Alexander-Arnold forced the home keeper into a another stop before the whistle.
The half ended in angry circumstances as both sides clashed after Dimitrievski confronted a clearly hurt Maguire as he laid in pain on the deck following a blow to the head.
VAR intervened to England’s detriment again in the 47th minute when Jack Grealish saw his close range effort ruled out.
Declan Rice and Co found it difficult to break down a stubborn North Macedonian side
The Three Lions applauded their fans after bringing their qualifying campaign to an end
But finally there was positivity, at least in terms of providing a threat. The sight of Kane getting stripped and ready to come on in place of the ineffective Watkins the 58th minute was reason for further hope.
And England were level within a minute of the captain coming on after Atanasov mistimed his header, under duress from Kane, beyond Dimitrievski to score the 200th goal of Southgate’s reign.
Yet the improvements in England’s performance were marginal. There was an urgency, but yet again very little penetration.
Southgate sent on Marcus Rashford, Cole Palmer and Kalvin Phillips for the final six minutes but it made no difference. More questions than answers for England.