Gareth Southgate admitted his side were nowhere near their usual level but stopped short of criticising his players after their drab 2-0 win over Malta on Friday night.
The Euro 2024 qualifier brought in a big crowd at Wembley Stadium with expectations of a big home win for the already-qualified Three Lions against a side ranked 171st in the world.
But an experimental England side were poor throughout, winning courtesy of Enrico Pepe’s own goal on eight minutes and Harry Kane's 62nd international goal midway through the second half.
Southgate said: “We didn’t start the game well. I’ve been in football for 35 years and if you don’t start well, it’s really difficult to pick it up.
“We needed, of course, to show better quality with the ball but also we were a bit stretched without it and a little bit disjointed in our pressing at times.
“We were not the level we would want to be at. We were not the level that we need to be at.
“But, equally, this group of players have been exceptional and I’m not going to start getting into their ribs too much about a performance like tonight.
“We made a few changes, we didn’t hit the levels we would have liked to have but they managed to win the game.
“Not in the style we’d have liked for the supporters but, in the end, we’ve won comfortably, as we should.”
England now head onto Skopje on Monday to complete their Euro 2024 qualification campaign against North Macedonia as preparations continue for next summer.
Meanwhile, England and Real Madrid star Jude Bellingham - absent from the Three Lions party because of a shoulder injury - is celebrating another personal accolade having collected the 2023 Golden Boy award. The prize is awarded by Italian outlet Tuttosport and recognises the best under-21 player in world football.
The midfielder was rewarded for an outstanding start to life at Real Madrid following a summer move from Borussia Dortmund and a 12-month period in which he has emerged as a key player for his national team.
Bellingham said: "I'd like to thank everyone that has been part of my journey so far at Birmingham, Dortmund and now Madrid. It wouldn't be possible without them.
"Lastly and most importantly, my family, who give me the support, motivation and love every day to keep striving.
"Now I have this prestigious award I want to keep going. I want to keep pushing the limits of my potential and hopefully many more trophies to come."