McClaren's position seemed secure after five straight 3-0 wins had taken England to the brink of qualification, but the team could now miss out and its poor performance in Moscow has led to calls for his resignation or dismissal from fans and the media.
England, a supposed powerhouse, is in jeopardy of failing to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since the 1994 World Cup and break a streak of five straight appearances at the European Championship.
McClaren said "four minutes of madness" when Russia was awarded a penalty and scored from a rebound had cost England the match. But his side failed to dominate, missed an easy chance to go 2-0 ahead and had already dropped several points in qualifying.
And McClaren's decision to play four central defenders was exploited by Russia coach Guus Hiddink, who had been among the contenders for the job as England manager before McClaren took over.
England would have qualified for next year's tournament if it had won in Moscow, but instead needs to beat group leader Croatia in its final game next month and hope Russia drops points at Israel or Andorra.
The English are in the predicament because of a dismal 0-0 home draw with lowly Macedonia a year ago. Last year's 2-0 loss at Croatia and 0-0 draw at Israel then compounded McClaren's problems, but it was the two points dropped at home that has left England dependent on other teams' results.
"I can't believe it is out of our hands," said England midfielder Steven Gerrard, who shot wide from close range early in the second half. "You start believing you are nearly there, that you have got one foot in the finals, but football is a cruel game.
"For England not to make the finals will be unthinkable. As players and staff we've got to take the responsibility for that."
Taking responsibility is what McClaren will have to do if, after the Nov. 21 match against Croatia at Wembley, England is left contemplating a summer of inaction.
Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick offered McClaren his public support on Thursday, but the similarly unpopular Graham Taylor was forced to resign after failing to guide England to a place at the 1994 World Cup.
Lampooned as a turnip by the British tabloids during his tenure, Taylor expects McClaren's fate to be similar to his own.
His successor may not be in his job long enough to attract a similar sobriquet from the British press.
"He will know what his responsibilities are," Taylor told the BBC. "The same with myself. Professionally we will be the only ones responsible."
McClaren criticized Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo's decision to award a 69th-minute penalty for a foul on Konstantin Zyrianov by Wayne Rooney outside the area.
It was reminiscent of Taylor's haranguing of a linesman against the Netherlands in 1993 after the referee failed to send off Ronald Koeman or award a penalty for a clear foul on David Platt
Never a popular appointment with fans because he was assistant to the staid Sven-Goran Eriksson, McClaren's successes have so far been outweighed by his failures.
The introduction of Gareth Barry to central midfield was an unexpected and intelligent move, but he had to reconsider decisions to drop David Beckham, Emile Heskey, Sol Campbell and David James - suggesting that Eriksson knew what he was doing after all.
It is unlikely that Eriksson would have fielded such a narrow defense on Wednesday. He was criticized for his reluctance to jettison underperforming players, but always tried to field players in their usual positions.
Hiddink targeted Joleon Lescott, the central defender making his full debut at left back, and the Everton player was out of position when Rooney was drawn into his covering challenge on Zyrianov.
McClaren has now dropped 10 points in qualifying for Euro 2008, just one fewer than Eriksson did in his successful qualification for two World Cups and one European Championship.
Taylor, though, agreed that it wasn't all McClaren's fault.
"I just heard a supporter say we didn't create any chances," Taylor said. "Steven Gerrard, not a chance to make it 2-0? That wasn't Steve McClaren at the far post was it, that hooked it right?
"But somebody has to carry the can and it is basically the manager."
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