Raheem Sterling’s second goal of Euro 2020 saw England beat the Czech Republic to win Group D and set up a last-16 tie against France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary at Wembley.
In a performance that developed into a slog after a bright start, Sterling converted at the far post in the 12th minute from Jack Grealish’s cross after fine work from Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka.
Grealish and Saka were two of the hosts’ better performers on a night when England were workmanlike and had to do without Mason Mount, self-isolating after coming into close contact with Scotland’s Billy Gilmour after the second group game.
Southgate also had the bonus of Manchester United captain Harry Maguire safely completing 90 minutes in his first game since suffering ankle ligament damage in early May.
Captain Harry Kane is still seeking his first goal of Euro 2020, although he was denied by a first-half save from keeper Tomas Vaclik.
At the other end, Jordan Pickford was rarely threatened, although he did pull off a fine diving save from Tomas Holes in the first half on a night when England got the job done – although a greater test than this now lies ahead.
That will come in the shape of the runner-up in Group F at Wembley on Tuesday, 29 June. The final Group F games take place on Wednesday, with Germany facing Hungary and Portugal playing France.
The enforced absence of Mount created an opening behind captain Kane in England’s side and, with Phil Foden left out, it gave a big opportunity to Villa captain Grealish and Arsenal’s 19-year-old Saka.
And while neither can regard themselves as having a guaranteed place when the knockout phase starts, both can be very happy with the impact they made as England opened with vigour before losing impetus.
It was perfectly illustrated by the decisive moment in what turned into an attritional encounter as Saka drove at the Czech defence with positive intent before Grealish delivered an inch-perfect cross to the far post for Sterling to score and retain his status as the only England player to score in the tournament so far after his winner against Croatia.
Grealish was a popular choice, his name being cheered loudly by England’s fans when it was announced, and he delivered a vibrant first-half performance in which he was a constant threat, demanding the ball and always attempting to pose problems for the Czech defence.
This was a big chance, and perhaps a surprising one, for Saka but this gifted teenage took the man of the match honours and looked perfectly at home on this elevated stage.
It remains to be seen whether they have done enough to force their way into Southgate’s starting line-up for the last 16 but they have certainly given England’s manager food for thought.
England have hardly illuminated Euro 2020 with their three Wembley performances so far but they can point with satisfaction to seven points from three games without conceding a goal.
Everton keeper Pickford has maintained excellent form throughout while the sight of Maguire coming through this first test after a lengthy absence will have delighted his manager, who regards him as one of his most trusted and important leaders.
As well as his defensive abilities, Maguire adds another dimension to England’s game with his ability to come out of defence and pick a pass, as he demonstrated with a superb delivery to create Kane’s first-half chance.
Kane’s lack of goals remains a worry, although there was no shortage of effort. Southgate has given total backing to his striker and he will be hoping he is saving his best for the sharp end of Euro 2020.
Sterling is another in whom Southgate has demonstrated great faith and it was rewarded once again with a goal and performance that earned him an ovation when he was substituted.
In many parts, this was a colourless England display after they started on the front foot but the results have been delivered in a manner Southgate and his players would have happily settled for when Euro 2020 got under way.
Now the real test is likely to come in the shape of world champions France, defending European champions Portugal or the ever-dangerous Germany. England will have to improve but they have done what has been required so far.