In one horrendous moment, one monumental gaffe, Scott Carson summed up the folly of Steve McClaren's time as manager of England. In failing to prevent Niko Kranjcar's speculative shot – not particularly powerful, not remotely deceptive – the callow 22-year-old's third touch in competitive international football, in a game England dared not lose, was to collect the ball from his net.
Carson's first touch had been a goal-kick, his second was when the ball brushed his gloves on the way to giving Croatia their lead. It wasn't just the ball that slipped through his hands but England hopes also.
This was, as will be hammered home time and again in the next few days, as was probably hammering away in McClaren's head all last night, Carson's debut. In a game his country could not lose. He'd been in goal last Friday and watched, without being called into action, as England went through the motions in beating an appalling Austrian side.
And on the basis of that, of his confident, assured performances in training and the fact that Paul Robinson – who had played 25 competitive games in succession and every minute of this qualification campaign up to last night – had suffered a loss of form, he was selected. It should be not just that McClaren goes but that his goalkeeping coach, Ray Clemence, goes also. How could anyone counsel that Carson (right) should make his competitive debut in such a critical match, in such trying conditions, in such an arena and with so much at stake?
It smacked squarely of a manager who didn't know what he was doing and in which direction he was taking his country. No one doubts Carson's ability, temperament and the fact he is an exceptional prospect but in his mistake was wrapped up all the failings of McClaren and his leadership.
The England manager had stood under an umbrella in the technical area as the rain tumbled down. And he must have felt like staying hidden under it for a very long time as the ball kicked up off the turf from Kranjcar's shot before beating a visibly stunned Carson. His positioning was simply all wrong, Carson was nowhere near saving it and it was from that shock that England conceded a second goal.
His error will be played time and again, the sight of the ball kicking up, but the aftershocks from it were palpable all last night. Carson's mistake was his own fault. There could be no excuses. On the eve of the contest he had made one of those comments that come back to haunt. "Does the threat of criticism scare me?" he said. "Not really." That resolve will be tested as never before. He will not be allowed to forget it at every stadium where Aston Villa play for the rest of this season.
Carson has made mistakes in England colours before – it was his misplaced clearance that allowed Germany a late equaliser in an Under-21 tie last year – but the stakes were nothing like as high then. Carson was clearly affected last night, although he could do nothing as Ivica Olic scored Croatia's second goal. England's defence failed to deal with Croatia's attack.
There was further evidence of how shot Carson's confidence was when he sent a clearance straight to Olic, then made a messy fist of blocking a drive by Luka Modric, beating the ball out. It showed how far his luck was going that the ball landed at Kranjcar's feet.
It would have been no surprise had Carson been withdrawn at half-time but England had more pressing matters; they had to score and not concede any more. Carson reacted quickly to block Olic's header. It struck his chest and flew out. England drew level before Carson was beaten again. It was from distance. He could have done better. But then, time and again, so could England. And so could McClaren.Reuse content