Gareth Southgate growing in confidence as England manager
Gareth Southgate feels a stronger and more confident manager for leading England, but is no closer to deciding whether he wants the job permanently.
Mounting excitement was extinguished in the summer by an embarrassing Euro 2016 exit to Iceland, with a third different manager now at the helm as a year to forget comes to an end.
Roy Hodgson's successor Sam Allardyce lasted a mere 67 days after secretly-record video showed him making a string of controversial comments, with England under-21s boss Southgate parachuted into the hotseat for the final matches of the year.
Next month's mouth-watering World Cup qualifier at home to Scotland and intriguing friendly with Spain are all that remain for the temporary boss, having secured a straightforward 2-0 win over Malta and fortuitous 0-0 draw in Slovenia.
Southgate did a manful job during a whirlwind fortnight that taught him a lot, just not whether he wants to throw his hat into the ring to be Allardyce's permanent successor.
"It's been a remarkable experience," the interim boss said. "And I feel stronger and more confident for it, and I recognise the responsibility it brings.
"I could not have been happier with the approach of the players or the staff around it, and I think we have prepared them to put them in the best possible place in order to get the results.
"On Tuesday that hasn't quite happened, but I temper that from their part with everything they have had to contend with."
Asked if he wants the England job more after the past fortnight's experiences, Southgate added: "I think I feel pleased with how I have handled any number of situations.
"I think that's been a great challenge and is something that is obviously a level up from what I have had to deal with but I feel confident in the way I have felt about that.
"The rest, that needs serious consideration from everybody's point of view and I go back to we want prepare well.
"We have a bit more time to study the opposition, look at our players and gather our thoughts before November and then everyone has time to make a decision."
For this international break, Southgate erred on the side of continuity rather than change after taking over in such difficult circumstances, backtracking on comments suggesting England were in a "mess."
The return from injury of key players will bolster his options when they reconvene next month, but the Under-21s boss, interestingly, does not think any of that squad are "ready to move up just yet".
The coming weeks also allow Southgate to reconsider the merits of Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere, with neither the Everton playmaker or on-loan Bournemouth midfielder having been called-up by England since Euro 2016.
"I think it gives me a chance to go and watch them play a bit more and to see where they are at," Southgate said.
"Obviously both get more football in the next month, Jack in particular who hasn't had too many 90 minutes.
"They are the things that it will be good to see because I have had to pick up information from other people."
Southgate has taken a pragmatic approach when it comes to the performances England produced due to the turbulent build-up.
However, among the glaring issues was the continued lack of goals, with the inability to effectively shoehorn the country's attacking talent leading to a paltry return of four goals in five games.
"All of those matches have looked different," Southgate said of a run that includes predecessors Hodgson and Allardyce.
"Some have been a struggle to break down a packed defence, a low block.
"Tuesday was a bit different in terms of the way they defended and in terms of the conditions. I don't know if I can generalise.
"I haven't studied properly all those other games. I've studied a couple in the period of time we've had but to put my finger on it now is a bit early."
Scotland and Spain are sure to represent different challenges next month - matches that will play a key role in deciding how Southgate's time at the helm is viewed.
"Spain are obviously going to be a huge challenge," he said. "I'm not looking at anything other than Scotland, frankly.
"Scotland is a game that we want to win to cement the place at the top of the group. For me, that's the key for the team and the country.
"Spain is an opportunity to test yourselves against a top quality side but the objective is to qualify for the World Cup. "