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Kane, Sterling’s club woes impacting England with Southgate powerless


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his was the night when club issues caught up with country for two of England’s biggest stars — leaving Gareth Southgate to pick up the pieces.

But what comes after that is what should concern Southgate ahead of next year’s World Cup.

As it was, he took the only action available to him on Tuesday night as his side toiled at Wembley — withdrawing his two most dependable match-winners when in desperate need of a goal.

Both were hooked after 76 ineffective minutes, which saw Kane hopelessly slash a volley wide from inside the box and Sterling fire straight at Peter Gulacsi when one-on-one with the Hungary goalkeeper.

Southgate had seen enough and must now hope for a sharp shift in fortune between now and the November international window. The problem is, there is little sign of that for either player.

Southgate tried to go down the collective responsibility route in the immediate aftermath of a draw that leaves England three points clear of Poland with two games to go. It was a bad night at the office for all, he claimed — but there is no disguising the deeper-rooted issues relating to the mainstays of England’s attack.

Kane looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders after failing to push through a move to Manchester City in the summer. With the nights drawing in, he is still to score a Premier League goal. Not since the 2014-15 season has he had to wait so long to get off the mark in the top flight, scoring his first of that campaign as a substitute against Aston Villa on November 2. Yet his first League start of that season did not come until a week later.

In other words, there is no comparison to what he is enduring now as England captain and a man considered one of the finest strikers on the planet.

Class is permanent, but Kane is suffering a malaise that meant his run of scoring in each of his previous 15 World Cup and European Championship qualifying games came to a shuddering halt.

“Performances for club and country maybe haven’t been there the last few weeks,” said the 28-year-old.

It is a slump he needs to snap out of for the sake of both Tottenham and England — and cannot be ignored by Southgate if his talisman’s club form continues to suffer between now and when the national team next convene.

The hope remains that he will play his way back into form, which is an avenue that has not been available to Sterling.

The City forward has started just four games this season — only two of them in the League — to emphasise how far he has slipped down the pecking order under Pep Guardiola.

Following his outstanding Euros, it is easy to forget the doubts hanging over his place in the England team after falling out of favour at City in the second half of last term.

Southgate kept faith and was rewarded, with Sterling scoring the goals when Kane was not during the summer. He was one of the players of the tournament, yet that has done little to sway Guardiola’s thinking.

While City’s £100million signing of Jack Grealish means England benefit from the winger now playing at the highest level with his club, he has become yet another obstacle to Sterling.

Can Southgate seriously stick with one of his most trusted soldiers if he continues to be sidelined at City?

“There’s obviously some bust-up with Pep, there’s something going on there,” was ITV pundit Roy Keane’s take on the situation.

Southgate, meanwhile, is powerless to fix it and at the mercy of Guardiola over his handling of one of the country’s most important players.

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There will be worrying echoes of John Stones’s situation when going from World Cup semi-finalist to being virtually frozen out of the City first team and, ultimately, dropped by England.

To the defender’s credit, he fought his way back for club and country — and on Tuesday night provided the cutting edge Kane and Sterling lacked with the equalising goal that salvaged a point after Roland Sallai’s 24th-minute penalty.

Yet, he came into this international break with his own club concerns, having failed to see a minute of action for City this season.

In that sense, Stones was the exception to the rule, but Southgate cannot bank on Kane and Sterling bucking the trend in the long term.


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