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Football: 'We let ourselves down badly'

Norman Fox hears the apologetic England coach rue a lack of creativity
HAVING EXPERIENCED for the first time the vociferous spite of a sneering Wembley crowd in almost full cry, Glenn Hoddle struggled to defend his England team. He admitted they had failed to find the necessary creativity to overcome a Bulgarian side playing to expose that predictable weakness.

In what was nothing less than a public apology, he said afterwards that there was a justifiable case for the booing. "We let ourselves down today. We can still win the group but we've got to get that result out of our system on Wednesday against Luxembourg. We didn't have enough creativity. Bulgaria came with five across the back and defended well but we didn't spring their defence or create enough. In that respect we missed Paul Ince."

He said everyone in the dressing-room was unhappy. "We don't want to play that badly again." Asked about his own situation, he said: "In the sense of winning the group, of course I feel under pressure. We wanted to get the advantage of three points but it was the worst performance by an England team at Wembley since I took over. We went through the game waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen. We just didn't do enough to make them happen."

Stating the obvious but at least not skirting the problems, he said: "We missed someone winning the ball in the middle. We needed three or four passes before we hit the front men." Reflecting on the fact that Jamie Redknapp had his name taken and will miss the game against Luxembourg, he said: "That is a big blow. We've put ourselves under more pressure but credit to Bulgaria. Even so, the spirit this week has been great."

Hoddle said he was not surprised how well Bulgaria defended although he had been by the number of changes that had been made since the last match. But he was prepared to criticise his own team more heavily than at any time in his career as England's coach. He said that in the middle third of the pitch, when Bulgaria were "out of shape", England failed to react and cause them problems. "A 0-0 draw is sometimes worse than a 1-1. We now need to get three points on the board. We needed to take advantage of playing at Wembley today but we haven't done that."

Like so many of his predecessors who have experienced this same discomfort at Wembley, he said: "It was a difficult game because they came and got what they wanted. We didn't do enough individually or as a team to open them up."

The lack of imagination in the England midfield has become a long-standing problem and one that yesterday Redknapp, for all of his pre-publicity, failed to overcome.

If there was any compensation for Hoddle it came from the generous Bulgarian coach, Dimitar Dimitrov, who said he respected Hoddle and England greatly in spite of the team being jeered off the pitch. He said: "There is plenty of time before we meet them again. Plenty of time for our young players to come through but I still think England are a fantastic team. They have plenty of time to correct any bad results. They are a much better side than Poland. But I expected more pressure, we approached the game well tactically and got a good result."

He was particularly satisfied since, as he said, he had made five changes to his team and had introduced several new players. "They showed a lot of character and strength. We tried to stop the gaps in our defence. We also tried to neutralise Alan Shearer and Michael Owen. We came with attacking intentions. We didn't intend to play defensively."

No doubt even a disappointed crowd will have taken that with a pinch of salt, but Hoddle was without any doubt leaving Wembley last night licking his wounds and awaiting further personal criticism.