Kirkland calamity turns up the pressure on Platt

Chris Kirkland, the young Liverpool keeper many are tipping to be England's long-term No 1, was the first to hold his hand up and say sorry for his Friday night blunder which has left England Under-21s with a mountain to climb in their bid to qualify for the Euro 2004 finals.

The keeper made a complete mess of trying to clear a through ball from Danio Masev and gifted an equaliser to Aco Stojkov as minnows Macedonia earned a surprise 1-1 draw in the Cair Stadium here.

That cancelled out a first-half goal from Sheffield United defender Phil Jagielka and now England find themselves struggling to finish in the top two in Group Seven. They will now almost certainly have to overcome both Portugal at Goodison Park on Tuesday and Turkey away next month to have a realistic chance of sneaking through.

Kirkland said: "I hold my hands up. I've come out and knew I was in trouble as soon as it happened. It was my mistake. Hopefully I can learn from it. The result has put the pressure on for the last two games. We've got to win them both and hope the other results go for us. We'll go back home, get together and hopefully put in a good performance on Tuesday to set us on our way again."

Kirkland's gaffe could have also inadvertently put further pressure on the coach, David Platt, who is reported to have been involved in crisis talks with senior Football Association officials after a poor sequence of results.

Platt acknowledged a meeting of leading FA members took place at the team hotel on Monday but insisted that his role had not been on the agenda. He said: "Yes, there was a meeting at our hotel last Monday but that had nothing to do with what was mentioned in a newspaper report.

"Yes, there were some senior people there but it had nothing to do with David Platt and the Under-21 job. That meeting was regarding the development of players all the way through from the Under-16s to the seniors. At no time whatsoever was there anything on the agenda that was referred to in the article.

"But this is not a question you should be levelling at me. It is a question that should be going to people in charge of whether I keep a job or don't keep a job. I think I like to be under pressure. I don't want to be sitting on the touchline thinking that it doesn't matter whether you win, lose or draw.

"I've always seen my job as two-fold at this level - getting players into the seniors at the same time as winning games. To be honest with you, one part of that job I think I have done reasonably well. But at the moment in this campaign our backs are against the wall, especially after this result. On the face of it that's two points lost. You expect to come and take three points against Macedonia. "Whether it proves to be the case, or a point gained, will be dictated by our next two results."

Paul Konchesky, who was made captain in the absence of the injured Gareth Barry, was adamant that Platt had the backing of the Under-21s dressing room. He said: "All the players respect the gaffer and he is fine. He is good on the pitch with us and we love him as a manager. I don't think any of the boys have got anything wrong to say about him."

Jagielka broke the deadlock in the 35th minute when he rose unmarked at the far post to convert a free-kick from Jermaine Pennant. England had the chances in the first half to kill off the game but after 62 minutes came the Kirkland error which ended a run of six straight defeats for the home side in the competition.

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