A blunder from the goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland, added to the pressure on the England Under-21 coach, David Platt, as his side were held to a shock 1-1 draw by minnows Macedonia in the Cair Stadium in Skopje.
Platt needed a victory after reports that his job could be in jeopardy following a series of disappointing results and performances. A 35th-minute goal from Phil Jagielka, heading home a Jermaine Pennant cross to the far post, looked to have earned England the three points but then Kirkland gifted the rank outsiders a second-half equaliser through Aco Stojkov.
It enabled Macedonia to collect their first point in the competition after six successive defeats, and leaves Platt's side with a mountain to climb if they are to overhaul either Turkey or Portugal in the race to qualify for the 2004 finals.
England produced an uninspiring display with only the acting skipper, Paul Konchesky, standing in for the injured Gareth Barry, enhancing his reputation. England looked far from secure at the back and only spasmodically posed a threat up front, although Shola Ameobi worked hard for the cause.
Kirkland had been called into action after only three minutes but on that occasion he produced a fine save to deny Stojkov. But after 62 minutes came the blunder from Kirkland which handed Macedonia their equaliser. The Liverpool player came out of his area to try to control a through-ball from Danio Masev but made a mess of his clearance, which allowed Stojkov time to turn the ball into an empty net.
England seldom looked like breaking through, with Francis Jeffers struggling to make an impression up front.
In the last minute, Joey Barton was booked for a clumsy challenge on Almir Bajramovski as England were left to reflect on an evening of frustration.
In the dying seconds Jeffers had a chance to make amends for a poor performance but his 20-yard volley flashed just over the bar.
Macedonia Under-21: Georgievski, Bajramovski, Gjorgjiev, Negrenski, Ivanovski, Popov, Markoski, Masev, Gbsoski (Stojanovski), Stojkovski, Baldovaliev.
England Under-21: Kirkland, Johnson, Clarke, Jagielka, Konchesky, Pennant (Wright-Phillips), Barton, Sidwell, Tonge, Ameobi, Jeffers.
Referee: Jari Maisonlahti (Finland).Reuse content