'The players felt they were denied victory'

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The Independent Football

Howard Wilkinson was philosophical about England's misfortune after they were denied a late goal against Finland when Ray Parlour's late strike bounced down from the cross-bar and crossed the line with only three minutes remaining. The match officials decided the ball had not gone in.

Howard Wilkinson was philosophical about England's misfortune after they were denied a late goal against Finland when Ray Parlour's late strike bounced down from the cross-bar and crossed the line with only three minutes remaining. The match officials decided the ball had not gone in.

England's caretaker coach said: "You have to be philosophical. I thought the ball had crossed the line though, and so did the players. Clearly they wanted a victory and they felt that they were denied one."

Parlour said: "I ran away celebrating as I thought the ball was over the line. I'm very disappointed for myself as it would have been my first England goal but also for the team."

There was earlier controversy when Finland's goalkeeper, Antti Niemi, pulled dpown Teddy Sheringham outside the penalty area and escaped with a yellow card.

Wilkinson said: "From the referee's reaction, I first thought it would be a penalty and then that it would be a red card so I was obviously surprised when he was booked."

He admitted it would now be "difficult to qualify" for the 2002 finals, although he insisted that a draw in Finland was not the worst result imaginable given the chaotic build-up to the match and the number injuries his squad had suffered.

"If it had been the start of a World Cup campaign, rather than the second game, and given the events of last weekend, the number of drop-outs and the difficulties we've experienced, I'd have been quite pleased," he said. "Putting it in a league manager's terms, if you took over a team at the bottom of the league that is not used to winning and went away three days later and got a draw as well as a clean sheet, you are reasonably pleased."

Wilkinson conceded that "two or three players had, by their standards, been below par", but even though his side looked unlikely to score, he did not send on Michael Owen, while Sheringham looked angry at being replaced by Steve McManaman with about 20 minutes left.

Wilkinson said: "I was tempted to put Michael on. But I thought Gareth Barry, who is normally a centre-back, was struggling a bit at left-back at that point and that we also needed to get control of the game and to get the ball up to our front men more. So I put on a wide man in Steve McManaman and, knowing that Emile Heskey had a back problem, I couldn't risk putting Michael on as well and then going down to 10 men if Emile had to come off."

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