Interim manager Gareth Southgate cannot understand why some supporters at Wembley decided to boo England captain Wayne Rooney against Malta.
In the four months since the national team had last played on home turf, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the Three Lions suffered a humbling Euro 2016 exit to Iceland and Roy Hodgson’s successor Sam Allardyce lost his dream job after 67 days.
Southgate was parachuted in to steady the ship as World Cup qualification continued against Malta, with first-half goals from Dele Alli and Daniel Sturridge securing a win far more comprehensive than the 2-0 scoreline suggests.
The inability to net more was as much down to in-form goalkeeper Andrew Hogg as poor finishing, but Rooney bore the brunt of fans’ frustration when missing the target late on.
The England captain, deployed in midfield, was jeered on several other occasions by home fans, leaving interim boss Southgate bemused.
“I presented him with a cap in the week for being the record (outfield) cap holder with his country,” Southgate said. “It’s fascinating to get an insight into his world over the last 10 days. Every debate seems to focus on him.
“The onus on him is enormous, the criticism of him is, at times, unfair and he ploughs on and plays with pride and captains his country with pride.
“I look back to the (John) Terrys, the (Frank) Lampards, the Ashley Coles – in their time with England they took an enormous amount of criticism and yet, if you look at the caps they won, they kept turning out and really put themselves on the line.
“Some other players have not put themselves forward at those moments and withdrawn from squads when the going has got tough.
“Those guys are the people that really have desperately wanted to play for England again and again and again, and put their neck on the block. And I think Wayne falls into that category.
“I don’t understand (the booing) but that seems to be the landscape. I have no idea how that is expected to help him, for sure.”