Roy Hodgson insists England's lacklustre 1-1 draw against Ukraine should not obscure the promise of a brighter future as his young stars helped preserve the side's unbeaten start to their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying campaign.
Hodgson's team were on the verge of a shock defeat at Wembley on Tuesday as they laboured to recover from Yevhen Konoplyanka's stunning first-half strike. However, England finally sparked into life after Hodgson threw on Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck and Chelsea duo Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand in the second half.
The youthful trio gave the hosts more pace and energy after a painfully low-tempo first hour and it was Welbeck who won the penalty that Frank Lampard converted five minutes from full-time to salvage a point.
England ended an underwhelming night with ten men after captain Steven Gerrard was sent off for a second booking in the closing moments and the Liverpool midfielder will be suspended for the next qualifier against San Marino in October.
But Hodgson is convinced the performances of his young substitutes show England, who were without the injured Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Ashley Cole against Ukraine, can cope in the absence of their top stars. "I'm not sure I'm prepared to accept it was a bad performance, although I suppose people will always say that when we draw at home," Hodgson said.
"We did miss a lot of players, but the ones that came in, including the three youngsters who came on, acquitted themselves well. It shows we aren't totally reliant on the old guard. Welbeck had a good impact and Bertrand was excellent as well."
Hodgson was adamant England were worthy of at least a point, even though Ukraine often looked the more incisive outfit. "I suppose you are relieved when you are losing 1-0 and get a late equaliser, but I didn't think we did that badly," Hodgson said.
"We started very poorly in the first ten minutes, but once we got into our stride we did well. We went 1-0 down to a wonder strike and of course against a good Ukraine side you are going to be up against it. But I was pleased with the way we kept probing and with the way our players went about the task."
After routing Moldova 5-0 in their opening qualifier on Friday, this was the first true test of England's mettle. But Hodgson claimed that just underlined the quality of a group where the other significant threats are likely to come from Poland and Montenegro.
"I would be surprised if people thought it would be an easy group," he said. "We played better tonight than when we beat Ukraine at EURO 2012, but we didn't win this time."
Meanwhile, Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin believes the draw puts his side in a strong position to mount a serious bid to qualify as group winners. "For us it's a big result because we will compete to win the group alongside England, Poland and Montenegro," Blokhin said.
"I couldn't imagine a better start for us. We created problems for England that they couldn't solve in the first half. We had really good chances, but the young players were probably a little bit intimidated that we were winning against England.
"We got tired and made a mistake at the end for the goal. Even so, I'm very happy about the result."