He asked for a finish that was all guns blazing but, once again, it was a night when England shot themselves in the foot.
England avoided the ignominy of losing all three games at this European Championships but that will be no solace for Aidy Boothroyd, the beleaguered head coach.
They are going home early because they have defended abysmally and old habits were impossible to shake off against Croatia.
Fikayo Tomori shows his dejection as England let slip of the lead three times against Croatia
They looked to be on course for victory when Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny scored a stunning goal
Kenny picked his head up from 25 yards out and rifled a spectacular effort into the far corner
But Josip Brekalo’s brace, his second late in the contest, ensured further anguish for England
He found space beyond England’s back line to slot between the goalkeeper’s legs for 3-3
The frustration and dejection at the performance was etched across Tammy Abraham’s face
Three times England led in this Group C dead-rubber but three times they were pegged back.
If a team concedes nine times in 270 minutes, you don’t need a magnifying glass to look for where it all went wrong. A bad back line has made them look a bad side.
As was the case against France and Romania, the Under-21s surrendered from positions of strength and, in some ways, this would have felt even worse. Boothroyd picked a number of his strongest players, including Phil Foden, but they were undone by basic errors.
England got off to a perfect start when Reiss Nelson stepped up to score from the spot
Nelson had been fouled but dusted himself down as he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way
He was congratulated by his team-mates having shown composure to score the opening goal
Croatia, who went into the game bottom of the group, got stuck in in search of an equaliser
England’s fans have had little to cheer in the tournament so far but they saw a change early on
‘If you give away the goals we have done in the last three games but expect to get anything out of them, then you are daft,’ said Boothroyd, who bemoaned the ‘lapses of concentration’ that led to his team being compromised.
‘At this level you get punished for basic mistakes.’
Everything, really, felt unsatisfactory from the start. England had goalkeeper Dean Henderson to thank for not going behind in the second minute, when he tipped Sandro Kulenovic’s header over the bar, but they took the lead moments later. Even this episode wasn’t without problems.
Tammy Abraham’s name was on the board in the dressing room as the designated penalty taker but Reiss Nelson stepped up to take the 10th minute spot-kick after being tripped up Branimir Kalaica.
He sent goalkeeper Ivo Grbic the wrong way but Boothroyd looked bemused.
But complacency set in for England and Brekalo soon equalised with a fine curling finish
Talented Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden was back in the side and made a difference
Quick out of the blocks, England went ahead after the restart thanks to James Maddison
The Leicester City midfielder was on hand to convert when the ball broke free inside the box
Demarai Gray, who scored in defeat to Romania, looked to inject some creativity in the side
CROATIA (4-3-3): Grbic, Uremovic, Kalaica, Katic, Cabraja (Bradaric 76), Vlasic (Ivanusec 66), Sunjic, Moro, Majer, Kulenovic, Brekalo.
Subs not used: Posavec, Sosa, Benkovic, Halilovic, Bistrovic, Borevkovic, Basic, Muric, Semper.
Scorers: Brekalo (39, 82), Vlasic (62)
Manager: Nenad Grecan
ENGLAND (4-3-3): Henderson, Kenny, Clarke-Salter (Konsa 49), Tomori, Kelly, Foden, Dowell (Mount 56), Maddison (Gibbs-White 73), Gray, Abraham, Nelson.
Subs not used: Gunn, Wan-Bissaka, Dasilva, Solanke, Barnes, Calvert-Lewin, Woodman.
Scorers: Nelson (11), Maddison (48), Kenny (70)
Booked: Kenny, Dowell
Manager: Aidy Boothroyd
Referee: Orel Grinfeld (Israel)
‘Maybe Tammy was feeling benevolent,’ said Boothroyd. ‘But it was news to me.’
Taking the lead should have given them the impetus to push on – the contest would have looked different had Abraham scored rather than striking the post in the 29th minute – but Croatia pegged them back in the 37th minute through a wonderful finish from the superb Josip Brekalo.
There was a positive response at the start of the second half, when James Maddison restored England’s advantage with a thumping finish from inside the area but the joy would be short-lived as Vlasic equalised after mistakes from Foden and left back Lloyd Kelly in the build-up.
England, who were cheered on by a hardy group of travelling supporters, responded when Kenny blasted a drive in from 20 yards but it never felt like a defining goal and so it proved when Wolfsburg forward Brekalo was played onside by Fikayo Tomori and converted from eight yards.
It was a wretched conclusion to a wretched week.
England had sauntered into the Championships, conceding four goals in 10 fixtures, and the sudden porousness was something Boothroyd was struggling to comprehend.
‘There is obviously a concentration issue but it’s been different players who have been doing it, not just one guy over and over again,’ said Boothroyd.
‘Different individuals in different games have made poor decisions. When we go through it all there will be plenty to learn from this tournament.’
Martin Glenn, the outgoing Chief Executive, and new Technical Director Les Reed watched the game and there will be meetings to determine why England underperformed. Those meetings need not last long. Take a glance at the goals against column. It tells you all you need to know.
Foden continued to look lively as he got a shot off but he was monitored well by Croatia
They showed no fear against England and were determined to get in their opponents’ faces
England boss Aidy Boothroyd remained concerned despite seeing Maddison make it 2-1
Boothroyd’s concerns were well placed as England again sacrificed the lead to Croatia
Nikola Vlasic got the second and despite Kenny’s strike, Brekalo had the final say for 3-3