Steven Gerrard believes England's spirited fightback in their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against Ukraine wouldn't have been possible before Fabio Capello took charge because the team weren't mentally strong enough.
Capello's side looked on course for three points when Peter Crouch scored in the first half at Wembley on Wednesday, but England were rocked when Andriy Shevchenko came off the bench to equalise for Ukraine late in the second half. During the reign of Capello's predecessor Steve McClaren that would have been the signal for England's fragile morale to collapse according to Liverpool midfielder Gerrard.
The psychological flaw proved costly on several occasions during England's failed attempt to qualify for UEFA EURO 2008, but Capello has instilled a sense of belief missing for too long and the hosts stirred themselves to snatch a priceless World Cup qualifying win thanks to John Terry's 85th minute goal.
"That was the pleasing thing," Gerrard said. "I think 18 months ago when we got a goal against us this side might have gone into our shell and played the final 20 minutes with fear. But this was much more positive. It was a good reaction. We showed a lot of character and deserved the win in the end.
"The performance was OK but I think we can improve on that. We're all pleased with the three points. That's the main thing because it was a difficult game for us. There is still a lot more to come. You have seen how far we have come in a short space of time but there is a long way to go to the World Cup. There's a lot of work to do and hopefully we are a better team by the time the World Cup comes around."
Gerrard's midfield team-mate Frank Lampard agrees that there is new-found confidence in the camp under Capello. "Maybe you might not have seen that a couple of years ago. There's more confidence around the team which has bred from results and performances over the last 12 months," he said.
"There was a period of time where we weren't performing for our country as a group, we didn't get the right results, and we became less confident in the England shirt. Maybe the new manager coming in has helped that, and individuals are starting to get that little bit more confident in an England shirt."
After five successive wins England are in pole position to win Group 6 and qualify for the FIFA World Cup. Victories over Kazakhstan and Andorra in June would almost certainly rubber-stamp England's progress, but Gerrard insists England can't afford to rest on their laurels yet.
"We go into two games at the end of the season and if we can take maximum points it's the perfect start to the campaign," he said. "But it's important that we don't let complacency set in and we keep going strong. I think that is the test. It's easy to go into those games with the wrong attitude, thinking we've only got to turn up to get the points.
"It's important to see the season out, be strong and show them a lot of respect because we are after the three points. It would be an absolute disaster to go away for the holidays thinking about dropping points to sides we should be taking maximum points from."
Lampard insists there is no chance of England easing up now because they are motivated by the memories of their UEFA EURO 2008 nightmare. "It wasn't a lack of hunger that stopped us qualifying. The players were devastated not to get there, because we knew we had the players to get there," he said. "We wanted to get there desperately, but we didn't perform well enough. We have the same hunger but we're showing it probably in a better way now."