Gareth Southgate oversaw an underwhelming 2-0 defeat of Malta in his first match as England’s interim manager, and surprisingly chose to single out Jesse Lingard for praise after he made his debut in Saturday’s test.

The Manchester United winger was deployed in advanced position on the left and, despite enjoying limited success in a narrow system at Wembley, caught the eye of the Three Lions’ temporary handler.

Related: 3 positives from Southgate’s England debut (even though it was only Malta)

“For me, a real positive was Jesse Lingard. I think he had an outstanding debut. He really linked the play well and looked a real threat,” Southgate told ITV Sport.

“That’s why we wanted to give him the start. He’s got a strong mentality. He’s an exciting player.”

With the exception of a header which forced the impressive Andrew Hogg into action between the sticks, Lingard struggled to consistently support Daniel Sturridge sufficiently in attack. By Southgate’s assertions, however, it seems Lingard has an important part to play in his remaining three matches in interim charge.

“The stage was made for him really,” Southgate continued. “He’s enjoyed Wembley.”

Lingard was a relative late bloomer in his career, taking in various sojourns at lower-level clubs to boost his senior experience before making his first serious Manchester United impact with a goal against West Bromwich Albion in November 2015.

Red Devils legend Ryan Giggs, who was assisting Louis van Gaal when Lingard bagged his maiden senior strike, explained his steady ascent.

“Lingard has progressed. He’s not one of the 18-19-year-olds that set the world on fire. He’s taken a bit of time and has gone out on loan,” said the Welshman.

“He’s trying to sort out what type of player he is because he can play a number of positions. He’s a player who gives energy, scores goals, and is a real team player but now, at 23, he’s got to kick on.”

The injuries to Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling mean that Lingard is likely to retain his starting berth in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Slovenia.