Aidy Boothroyd praised the defeat of Italy that extended England Under-21s’ unbeaten run and then targeted the “holy grail” of tournament glory.
A 3-2 comeback victory at St Mary’s extended the team’s undefeated run to 15 fixtures, the last loss having come via a 3-1 scoreline by the same opposition at the 2015 European Championships.
Mostly under the senior team’s interim head coach Gareth Southgate, England excelled in qualification for next summer’s competition and have won their past 27 games at home.
That record also highlights the familiar English trait of success in qualifying before disappointing in major competitions. Yet, having seen victory secured by Jack Stephens’ stoppage-time goal, Boothroyd said: “Yes, it is a good record and we have managed to qualify six times on the spin.
“What we have to do now is do as well at the tournament. That’s the holy grail, isn’t it? If we can do that then we will be in a good place.
“We learnt a lot about ourselves. We learnt we have plenty of character and can score goals from all over the pitch. We hit the crossbar and the post and we had an appeal for a penalty we thought we should have had (when Demarai Gray went down in the first half).
“I’m not saying it was all rosy because it wasn’t; we showed there are a lot of things we still need to work on defensively, but overall we are delighted to play such a major nation and get a result like that.”
England’s most recent home defeat came in a 2-1 loss to Iceland in March 2011 when Southgate’s predecessor Stuart Pearce was manager.
At St Mary’s on Thursday, Leicester’s Gray needed only six minutes to put Boothroyd’s team 1-0 up before goals from Andrea Conti and Federico di Francesco gave Italy a half-time lead.
By then an ankle injury suffered by John Swift had led to him being replaced by Will Hughes, and the midfielder was influential in creating Lewis Baker’s equalising goal before Stephens’ late header, almost a year after his red card in the 0-0 draw at Bosnia & Herzegovina, won it.
“Adversity does you good,” said Boothroyd, whose three victories from three have strengthened his hopes of succeeding Southgate on a permanent basis, shoulder the former Middlesbrough boss get the England senior job full-time. “Provided you learn the lessons from it, that’s the important thing.
“They didn’t get through the group stage in 2015, yet the same team can go and win in Toulon (at the Toulon Tournament) in 2016. So providing nobody brushes it under the carpet and learns valuable lessons why we didn’t do so well, that’s the important thing.
“This group of lads have been through a situation where they know what it’s like to pick up trophies. They are more experienced, (have) played more league games and it stands them in good stead.
“They mature a bit more and they know what it’s like to win and they know what it’s like to lose.”