England's Gareth Southgate is on track for knockouts but faces familiar criticism after USA draw

How the USMNT made England look 'mediocre' (1:35)

Herculez Gomez praises the United States' performance in their 0-0 draw with England at the FIFA World Cup. (1:35)

AL KHOR, Qatar -- Gareth Southgate finds himself in the awkward position of focusing on achieving qualification from Group B while constantly being judged on whether England can win the World Cup.

In the first, immediate instance a 0-0 draw against the USMNT is hardly a disaster. They remain top of the table, in charge of their own destiny and therefore on track to reach the last 16. But the boos that rang out here inside Al Bayt Stadium at full-time from a predominantly English crowd were a revival of what was a familiar criticism throughout the six-game winless run that preceded their arrival in Qatar: Southgate's squad management.

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Especially in light of Monday's rampant 6-2 win over Iran, England were curiously passive here, stifled by the intelligent pressing and compact shape of Gregg Berhalter's side which nullified Jude Bellingham's influence, forcing centre-backs John Stones and Harry Maguire to play the ball longer more often than they would like. And that was when they fancied playing it forward. There were spells in the second half when England were jeered by their own supporters for moving the ball along the back four as they laboured to find the same invention as four days' earlier.

Perhaps there were fans here, journeying to this particularly remote part of the Middle East, 40km north of Doha, at great expense, who simply wanted more bang for their buck, more entertainment having become accustomed to the riproaring Premier League show every week.

Southgate is a victim of his own success to the extent that he is judged in such unforgiving terms after delivering a semi-final at the 2018 World Cup and England's first major final in 55 years at last summer's delayed Euros. The depth of talent at his disposal, star names suggesting the alchemy to turn them into a great team is a simple equation, adds further pressure.

In that showpiece at Wembley in the Euros, if there could be one criticism of Southgate it was England's inability to ram home their advantage over Italy at 1-0 or react to a second half in which Marco Verratti and Jorginho began to dictate play.

The game on Friday changed in a different way. The USMNT effectively stopped England building out from the back in the manner they like, meaning there was no tempo in their play and players who thrive with the ball in space -- Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling among them -- could not get themselves into the game.

As he often does, Southgate stood with his trusted lieutenant Steve Holland on the touchline, engaged in dialogue for several minutes discussing the plentiful options at his disposal.

He should have acted sooner, long before the 68th-minute. And Jordan Henderson for Bellingham felt in theory like the sort of regressive step Southgate's critics use as evidence of unduly prioritising caution over creativity. But in truth the Borussia Dortmund midfielder had been marked out of the game and his replacement injected some energy into a stagnant area of the pitch.

Southgate was repeatedly criticised last summer for underusing Jack Grealish and so turning to him here had some logic, but opting for Marcus Rashford over Phil Foden when replacing Bukayo Saka was a strange call given the need for a player with guile able to glide into pockets of space and take the ball on the half-turn.

With a typically astute turn of phrase, Southgate filed the fans' frustrations alongside various other off-field issues, dubbing this World Cup "the tournament of external noise."

But this concern is nothing new. Again, Southgate has taken England so far but if they are to take the final step towards glory, do they need to shift their mindset away from avoiding the pitfalls of the past to seizing the moment by risking more to unleash their full attacking potential?

"Obviously whichever one of our forwards we didn't put on if we didn't win the game, I was going to be sitting here answering questions about why I didn't put them on," said Southgate.

"We wanted to change the wide areas, we didn't think it was a game for Phil in the middle because he doesn't play for there for his club and defensively it was a really complicated game for the midfield three to work out. That's why we thought Hendo could help us at that moment as well as giving Jude a physical rest.

"It was a game for experience in the middle area and then it was a decision on wide players. We thought Marcus' speed would be important and Jack could carry the ball up the pitch for us, win fouls and relieve pressure on us in our sort of mid third.

"Without a doubt we love Phil, he's a super player. We could have gone with Phil and maybe things would have been different but that was the choice we made on the night."

Of course, it is worth remembering that England drew their second game of Euro 2020 -- a similarly turgid stalemate with Scotland -- and still reached the final so Southgate is right to dismiss any suggestion that what happens now defines anything other than their short-term progress.

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"I'm sure there will be a lot of noise about the performance but not many teams go through World Cups and get nine points in the group," said Southgate. "We're in a good position, we've got a bit to do to quality but we've also got an opportunity to win the group.

"The players were very down and disappointed but I told them that isn't how it's going to be for the next three days. They showed another side to what they're about & it's going to be important moving forward."

England must avoid a four-goal defeat to Wales to secure qualification and that, for now, should be all that matters. But this is a manager and a squad that have not shied away from talk of winning it.

And so in that context, the decision to name an unchanged line-up and then not alter anything until the game was in the home stretch on what he described afterwards as a "humid" night just reignited the debate over whether Southgate has to be a little more proactive in his mid-game management if England are to finally lift a second World Cup.