England's players left the Maksimir stadium last night booed and jeered by their own supporters, who turned on their team for the first time in recent years. As the England squad left for their coach they were abused by more than 200 fans who sang, "You're not fit to wear the shirt" and called for the return of David Beckham.
There were 4,000 England supporters in Zagreb last night and they made their feelings quite clear, also targeting the players with the chant, "What a load of rubbish". Generally loyal throughout even the worst days of Sven Goran Eriksson's reign, the famously long-suffering England fans would appear finally to have had enough of the lacklustre performances served up in vital games.
The mention of Beckham's name could be the start of an uncomfortable agenda for McClaren, who resisted any temptation to bring the player back into the squad even though Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves and Aaron Lennon were all unavailable. It was a dire night for the new England head coach, who admitted that the failure of 3-5-2 was "my responsibility", but refused to rule out returning to the system.
"It wasn't [the wrong decision to play 3-5-2] but we lost the game so obviously the tactics didn't work," McClaren said. "How you lose is totally different, but we came here to win a football match, we haven't done and the system didn't work.
"We will look at it a bit more thoroughly," he added, "but I still believe we need to change systems and we need another one. It was my decision to change so it is my responsibility.
"I just looked at the injuries we had taken and the suspension to Steven Gerrard and I knew it was a difficult place to come. Knowing the experience of certain characters in the team I wanted as many of them as I could. I thought that was the way to go - to get as many characters in as I could."
On Paul Robinson's disastrous effort on the second goal, McClaren said: "He didn't deserve it. Paul Robinson had been outstanding all night. He was very, very disappointed at the bobble [which took it over his foot] and at 2-0 it kills the game.
"I don't regret it [3-5-2], it didn't work and it may or may not be the system we go with. Paul kept us in the game and then we settled down and in patches I thought we controlled the game in the second half."
McClaren admitted: "That part of the job [the criticism], I know that, I have been around the scene for five years and I know what it entails. You pick the tactics to win a game and if it works you accept the plaudits, if we lose that is part of it."
Robinson described Croatia's second goal as a "freak" that was due to one of the divots dug out by the Croatia goalkeeper, Stipe Pletikosa, to spot his goal-kicks in the first half. "I went to kick it, there was a bobble and the ball wasn't there. It was just an absolute freak, there was nothing you could do about it."
On England's future in Group E, he said: "There is a long way to go but England never do things the easy way. We always make it hard for ourselves. I was pleased with the way I played before and after the goal. In the first half we played reasonably well and controlled the game without troubling them."
Slaven Bilic, the Croatia manager, said that England's tactics had played into his side's hands. He said: "I was hoping England would venture into 3-5-2 because it would give us room to attack. I thought if they played 3-5-2 we would walk away with three points and I was absolutely right."Reuse content