Roy Hodgson admitted he was "relieved" after England salvaged a late draw against Ukraine but praised his players' perseverance and insisted the performance had been better than that which yielded a victory over these opponents at Euro 2012.
The England manager's only real complaints centred upon the display from the referee Cuneyt Cakir, with Hodgson seeking him out at the final whistle to ascertain why Jermain Defoe's first-half goal had been disallowed. He was also unimpressed with the Turkish official's eagerness to flash yellow cards at his players, with the captain Steven Gerrard dismissed a minute from time having been penalised for fouls on Ruslan Rotan and Denys Garmash. He will miss the visit of San Marino next month, as will the full-back Glen Johnson after his second booking of the group, with three other England players also cautioned.
"People saw us at the European Championships in Ukraine, when we beat them [in Donetsk], but that was a better performance tonight than that which actually gave us a 1-0 victory over there," said Hodgson. "You can't allow the result to cloud your judgment of the performance. We asked more questions of them tonight than we did over there, and had we lost it would have been harsh justice. As it was for them to have lost that game in Ukraine.
"In the end, I suppose you're always relieved when you're losing 1-0 and get a late equaliser. I'm not so certain I'm prepared to accept it wasn't a great performance. I didn't think we did that badly – we stuck to our task – even if we started very poorly but, once in our stride, we had control of the game. We went 1-0 down to a wonder strike, but I was pleased with the way we kept probing, playing our football and taking chances. We deserved our equaliser. I'm very pleased with the way we stuck at it and worked."
Asked if he had been offered any explanation for Defoe's goal being ruled out, the striker having appeared to push Andrii Iarmolenko lightly in the throat only for the Ukrainian to fall clutching his face, Hodgson added: "Not really, no. It was disallowed for a foul, apparently, but we didn't see it on the bench.
"I thought all the yellow cards were very harsh. I don't think there were a lot of bad fouls – or fouls, full stop – so I'm going to react and say there were far too many cards for the fouls committed, and we got too many. Steven Gerrard is extremely unlucky to be sent off. The two fouls he was adjudged to have committed were not worthy of them."
Gerrard said of his dismissal: "It's disappointing for me because it's a red card - my first one in 98 caps. But we play San Marino next. I'm sure the boys can do the job without me and then I'll be available for Poland. I'm gutted over the red, but happy with my performance."
The Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin departed encouraged by his side's point, describing it as a "very big positive result" and reasserting that his team are ready to challenge England, Poland and Montenegro to force passage out of the group.
"Before the game we'd wanted to win but, in the circumstances and after having a goal disallowed, it showed great character to get a point," said Frank Lampard, whose 26th international goal from the penalty spot secured the late point. "I don't think you can pin it all on anxiety. It is a long group and this was not an easy game, so it was good to get a point."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © nicksarebi