ST JAMES’ PARK is the Football Association’s preferred choice of northern venue for one of England’s warm-up matches ahead of next summer’s European Championships.

Having returned to the top of their qualifying group when they cruised to a 4-0 win over Bulgaria on Saturday, Gareth Southgate’s side will take a major step towards securing a place at Euro 2020 if they claim another victory when Kosovo visit Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium tomorrow night.

With their qualification seemingly assured, the FA are beginning to consider their plans for England’s international schedule ahead of next summer’s finals, which will be staged in a number of different venues scattered across Europe.

England are likely to play two warm-up matches ahead of the tournament, which is due to start in mid-June, but because Wembley is set to host three group games as well as both semi-finals and the final, the FA will not be able to use the stadium to stage any preparatory games. UEFA will effectively take control of Wembley in the middle of next May, meaning the ground will be unavailable from that point onwards.

Having successfully moved a number of England matches out of London in the last few years, the FA are keen to use next summer’s situation as an opportunity to take Southgate’s side on the road again, and are expected to stage one warm-up game in a northern venue and one in the south.

St James’ Park has emerged as a strong favourite for the northern game, with England not having played at the home of Newcastle United since they claimed a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier in March 2005.

Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium is staging next month’s women’s international between England and Brazil, while Sunderland’s Stadium of Light hosted a men’s friendly with Australia in 2016 and Leeds United’s Elland Road was the venue for England’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica last June.

St James’ Park’s absence from the international roster is regarded as something of an anomaly, and the FA is understood to have closely monitored the successful staging of Friday’s international rugby union fixture between England and Italy.

More than 50,000 fans watched England’s final warm-up fixture before this month’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, an attendance that would almost certainly be matched or bettered if England’s footballers were to play on Tyneside at the start of next summer.