The reverse put the Three Lions firmly on the back foot in their new Nations League campaign but Southgate said experimentation would continue in the competition’s five games leading up to the World Cup.
Established England starter Phillips is back in Southgate’s squad having missed March’s international friendlies during his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Leeds midfielder Phillips returned to play the full duration of United’s last six games of the Premier League season but the 26-year-old was only named on the bench for Saturday evening’s Nations League clash against Hungary in Budapest.
Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham formed the England center midfield in front of a back three of Kyle Walker, Conor Coady and Harry Maguire for a game in which Southgate was minus the services of centre-back options Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori through injury in addition to forward Raheem Sterling plus Phil Foden with Covid.
As part of a late tactical reshuffle, Phillips was eventually brought on as England’s fifth and final substitute in the 79th minute, replacing Coady and partnering Rice in the double pivot behind a back four as Bellingham pushed further up the park.
The Three Lions improved but the damage had been done via a 66th-minute penalty converted by Dominik Szoboszlai as Southgate’s side fell to their first defeat in 90 minutes for 23 games.
The reverse dealt a hammer blow to England’s prospects of advancing to next summer’s Nations League finals from a group also containing Tuesday night’s hosts Germany and Saturday’s visitors Italy as part of a month that also features the return leg fixture against Hungary next Tuesday night.
Southgate, though, said there was plenty to consider in assessing both the display of his midfield and his next selection plans in the build up to the 2022 Qatar World Cup which starts in November.
Asked whether the lack of control in the England midfield was down to the way Hungary played, young players not handling the emotions of the game or just basic, individual mistakes, Southgate reasoned: “A bit of all three, really.
“We wanted to try certain players. We’re trying to balance some players who’ve come in, back players in particular on the back of not a lot of football, so we’re trying to manage that group with also knowing that we don’t have Guehi and Tomori for the first two matches so trying to balance the minutes with some players, trying to give people opportunities to see what they can do but have some experience around them.
“And we need these sorts of games.
“The high level games are the ones you find out the most about and Hungary are a team who are improving enormously.
“They’re obviously not one of the top seven or eight nations that we have got to be aiming to beat.
“But if you’re half a yard off against any team, then you’re not going to get the results that you want.”
Pressed on whether the defeat would now alter his selection plans for the rest of this month’s three games given England’s worst possible start in their Nations League group, Southgate explained: “Across the four games, we’ve still got to find out about players.
“We don’t have any friendlies between now and then the World Cup so the only opportunity to try things and to find out about people is within these games and frankly that’s better than finding out in friendlies because we’re going to see them under pressure in matches where the quality of the opposition is good so it doesn’t really alter the way we view the period.
“As a coach, you’ve got to balance the disappointment with recognizing ‘okay, what have we taken from it and what do we learn from it, knowing that in this role, it’s different to most others because of course, the fallout from a defeat is always much greater.
“But I’ve got to make sure that I keep everybody else on track.
“I think we have a pretty good idea of what our strongest team probably is.
“Quite a few of those players are coming in off not an ideal preparation. “But there’s still a lot we can take and learn from the games.
“I don’t enjoy losing football matches. It’s a long time since we actually sat and got beaten across 90 minutes so I don’t like that feeling one bit and the players are very disappointed in the changing room.
“But I’ve got to keep the balance of knowing what we tried, what we learned.
“I’ve personally got to keep that balance with a whole group.”