A last-minute goal from Isco saw Spain come from two goals down to draw 2-2 with England at Wembley.
Few connected with the national team will look back at 2016 with any fondness as a handful of impressive performance were overshadowed by the humiliating European Championship exit to Iceland.
England lurched from one crisis to another as Roy Hodgson’s successor Sam Allardyce left after a mere 67 days, but interim manager Southgate has steadied the ship impressively and looked crestfallen after Isco secured Spain a 2-2 draw deep into stoppage-time.
Adam Lallana’s early penalty and the end of Jamie Vardy’s goal drought had brought a smile to those inside a sold-out Wembley, producing football which will have pleased those in the top echelons of the Football Association.
Such a positive display on top of Friday’s 3-0 win against oldest foes Scotland surely makes Southgate a shoo-in for the job full-time, although the closing stages underlined the work that remains.
Many inside Wembley applauded Liverpool flop Iago Aspas’ stunning 90th-minute strike, but the overriding feeling was dejection as substitute Isco slotted a last-gasp equaliser.
It was a frantic end to a match that started with Vardy somehow avoiding punishment for launching into a clearance that left Cesar Azpilicueta writhing in agony.
Vardy was soon back at the heart of things, with Jose Reina’s rush of blood saving the Leicester striker’s blushes.
Lallana’s exceptional cross from the right looked to have been wasted after the 29-year-old’s poor touch, only for Spain’s back-up goalkeeper to clip him.
Referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan pointed to the spot and Lallana coolly finished from the spot, with Southgate punching the air in delight.
A third goal in as many international matches highlighted the attacking midfielder’s marked improvement of late, with his touch, vision and pressing proving a headache for Spain.
Unfortunately for England and Liverpool, Lallana’s night came to an abrupt end after just 27 minutes, limping off to be replaced by Theo Walcott.
The break in play saw the already tame atmosphere dissipate further, although a spate of bookings in quick succession raised the volume slightly.
Raheem Sterling, Inigo Martinez and Walcott were shown yellow cards in a first half which saw England look more comfortable in possession than the visitors.
Vitolo’s shot wide was the best Spain could muster, although John Stones’ overhit pass caused a fright and led Eric Dier to wag his finger in frustration.
Such questionable decision-making almost cost England against Scotland and led former defender Southgate to call for bravery “not stupidity”.
The interim manager had been pleased with his side’s attacking display in the 3-0 defeat of their oldest foes and there were a few promising passages from an England perspective before half-time.
Martinez had to hurriedly turn a superb Sterling cross behind his own goal, before fine play led to a cross just beyond Vardy’s reach.
The Leicester striker failed with a shot from the resulting corner before half-time, with Tom Heaton and Phil Jagielka coming on for a second half which started superbly for the hosts.
Walcott saw a shot deflected into the side-netting by Nacho shortly after the restart, with England extending their lead within three minutes.
Jordan Henderson, captaining the side with Wayne Rooney injured, sent over a fine ball that caught Spain napping, with Vardy showing no little determination to power a header past Reina.
The goal brought a smile to those inside Wembley, as did the mannequin-inspired celebration led by Vardy.
However, England were not standing still and the Leicester striker put Walcott through, only to be denied by a fine Reina save, before Dier turned the ball across the face of goal.
When Spain settled, Heaton did well to deny Silva as Nathaniel Clyne’s pressure helped clear the danger.
Nacho hacked clear at the other end as Jesse Lingard rounded Reina, but Spain were growing into the match as substitutions disrupted the flow.
Manchester United’s Ander Herrera came on for his Spain bow and West Ham left-back Aaron Cresswell got his first minutes for England, whose players were treated to the odd rendition of Iceland’s Viking clap.
However, there were not many home fans left by the time Spain made their stunning comeback.
An outstanding 90th-minute strike from Aspas was the first goal England had conceded since Euro 2016 – and it was soon followed by another.
Isco had flashed wide as Spain pushed for a stoppage-time leveller but he got his reward – and a draw for his country – after controlling impressively and slotting through Heaton’s legs.