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Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Alan Hansen's column
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Steve McClaren has taken a lot of stick after England's 0-0 draw in Israel and the buck has to stop with the manager.

But it is not the coach who is to blame if a player cannot pass a ball properly.

England midfielders Steven Gerrard (left) and Frank Lampard
Gerrard and Lampard train together - but should they play together?

If you are a good player, passing from A to B is pretty standard. You cannot have a go at the boss if you play badly and pass it poorly too.

In Tel Aviv, England produced yet another massively disappointing performance. They were on top for most of the game but they did not win and Israel did not offer much.

Creatively, there was nothing happening. They had half-chances but that is all they were. The display was poor, considering they have got multi-talented players in the team.

But the whole side is struggling. They are not playing with any confidence, they are not scoring any goals and everyone is underachieving.

If they are going to qualify for Euro 2008 - which I still think they will do - they need to start improving quickly.

But the recovery will not start on Wednesday against Andorra. You cannot get things back on track when you are playing such poor opposition and England will prove nothing in Barcelona.

What it does is give everyone some respite. If they were up against a better team, they might struggle a bit.

As it is, England must now wait until June to try to rectify what has gone wrong.

Wayne Rooney is one of the players who underperformed yet again. By his standards, his touch and the technical ability we have come to expect of him did not come through.

He saw a lot of the ball and did not perform. I have said before, you cannot expect one man to bail you out all the time and he is still only 21, though granted he has not played well for England for a while.

Well done to Alex McLeish for making a substitution that came off in style

Because he burst on to the scene at such a young age and was so brilliant, people expect him to be a superstar every time he steps out on the pitch and it is just not going to happen.

If Rooney is off-colour, there should be others who step up. For a long time we have talked about the golden generation of England footballers but that was probably a bit wide of the mark.

Two players who have come under more scrutiny are Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard but I do not think it is a question of pointing the finger or dropping one of them.

They combined really well for England's best chance when the ball got stuck under Frank's feet but we all know Steven can play a zillion times better than he did.

If I was the manager, I would stick with them. Before you think about dropping one of them you have got to show me a better alternative and, at the moment, nothing stands out.

As for Scotland, it was very important that they won on Saturday against Georgia, with the real test of Italy coming up on Wednesday.

Previous boss Walter Smith gave the players that belief and Alex McLeish has carried on the momentum.

It was great to see a manager make a substitution that came off in style, with Craig Beattie coming on and getting the winner, so congratulations to Alex and Scotland for pulling it off. There is no better time to score than in the 89th minute.

WEDNESDAY GAMES
Rep Ire v Slovakia (1930 BST)
N Ireland v Sweden (1945 BST)
Italy v Scotland (1950 BST)
Andorra v England (2000 BST)
Wales v San Marino (2000 BST)
It would be absolutely magnificent if they get anything in Bari and they will all have to play at the top of their game. But I do not think it would be that bad if they lost the game.

Northern Ireland are playing with a great collective responsibility and team spirit and they have certainly got themselves in the hunt for qualification.

It would be great if they could come out of the doldrums and qualify for Euro 2008 - it would be an amazing, remarkable story and we are all rooting for them.

It is even more astonishing when you consider the manager Lawrie Sanchez has been subjected to speculation about his future.

He had one bad result, at home to Iceland, but how well they have done since! They went out and beat Spain days later and it speaks volumes for everybody involved.

Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton has come under terrific pressure and it was important for him to get the result at home to Wales on Saturday.

If you look at the team he can put out it is not a bad side and I think they can go from strength to strength, especially if they now go on and beat Slovakia.

The thing about Steve is that he has had a lot of criticism and part of that is because he does not have a track record as a manager - but that is not his fault.

Steve is very single-minded in his approach and he will keep doing what he thinks is right.

It is very hard for John Toshack and Wales, they are going through a tough time as far as results go.

You are only as good as the players you put on the pitch and they really only have Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and maybe two or three others - they just do not have the strength in depth.

It is difficult to get any momentum with a victory when you are struggling like they are.

But they should look at how Northern Ireland are doing and take heart from that.



SEE ALSO
Players are behind me - McClaren
26 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Israel 0-0 England
24 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Ferguson eager for Italian test
25 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Scotland 2-1 Georgia
24 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Flagging Wales boosted by Koumas
25 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Carsley praises Staunton set-up
25 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Rep of Ire 1-0 Wales
24 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Baird is likely to join NI squad
25 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Liechtenstein 1-4 N Ireland
24 Mar 07 |  Internationals


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