Rashford warned by Southgate after his hit and miss night against Spain

Gareth Southgate has delivered a serious warning to Marcus Rashford that he must start playing more regularly.

Rashford has started just one game for Manchester United so far this season, and it comes at a time when England are facing a major striker shortage.

Three Lions boss Southgate was understood to be privately hugely disappointed that Leicester’s Jamie Vardy retired from international football at age 31 in the wake of the World Cup this summer as it leaves a major talent void.

Captain and Russia 2018 Golden Boot winner Harry Kane is the undisputed first choice centre-forward, but England now only have Rashford and Arsenal ’s Danny Welbeck as back-up options.

Daniel Sturridge is seemingly out of the picture, Raheem Sterling is more effective as a No10 and the ones coming through, Dominic Solanke of Liverpool and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah, are not playing for their clubs.

Rashford scored against Spain in Saturday’s nations league defeat, but missed two other big chances and it’s felt that must come from a lack of sharpness or game time.

The United striker was sent off at Burnley eight days ago to compound his current frustrations at Old Trafford, while Welbeck has yet to start for Arsenal and has managed just 21 minutes of game time this season.

Rashford is still just 20 and England’s best young hope but he desperately needs to kick on from being a supersub under Jose Mourinho if he is to progress for club and country.

Southgate said: “The only way for him to improve is by playing. He knows we have real belief in him.

“I think we also have to remember his age and what he’s achieved in a short period of time. He’s got a tremendous mentality, he’s got great talent, we think he’s got everything to go on and be a top player and I’m sure he’ll do that.”

Southgate was also eager to praise Rashford for the goal he did score rather than the two chances he failed to take — a close-range header saved by club colleague David de Gea and another opening fired straight at the Spanish keeper.

Rashford did pick up a knock and with star man Kane again looking jaded after his summer it seems likely Welbeck, a stoppage-time sub on Saturday, will play in Tuesday’s friendly against Switzerland.

But Southgate insists Rashford is developing as a player — particularly when it comes to being a penalty-box striker.

Southgate added: “I’d rather focus on the fact he got his goal, which was really well taken. Good save from the header. And he’s in the right position to try and finish the next one.

“As he gets more experience and confidence in those situations, he’ll finish them. He’s a player that in this period we definitely wanted to invest time in — that’s why we started Gomez and Rashford and Shaw.

“He’s scored a goal and was in the penalty box more. At times, his previous goals have come outside the box. We know he can hit things, we’ve been encouraging him to get higher up the pitch, not drop quite as deep and he got his reward for that.”

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