The artificial pitch proved anything but fantastic for McClaren and his men, who saw their five-match winning streak in qualifying Group E ended by two goals in four minutes from substitute Roman Pavluchenko.
While Russia coach Guus Hiddink celebrated a famous triumph against the man who got the job the Dutchman was considered for, McClaren was left to reflect on how fickle fate can be.
Victory would have seen England qualify, and they had high hopes after Wayne Rooney opened the scoring, but the scenario changed in the second half.
Russia are now only two points behind England with a game in hand. Croatia are already virtually through so if Russia can win in Israel next month, with only part-time Andorra to play in their final match, it is they who are likely to go on to the finals in Austria and Switzerland.
As expected, there was no John Terry or Frank Lampard in an England side showing only one change from the team that defeated Estonia at Wembley on Saturday.
In handing Joleon Lescott his second cap – and his first start – McClaren placed a huge amount of trust in the Everton man – and his manager David Moyes, who has championed the former Wolves defender’s claims as a left-back.
The atmosphere at kick-off was intense. Ninety minutes at the Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic School in Altrincham on Monday lunchtime might have given England a taste of the ‘Field Turf’ on which the game was played but it is a fair bet they were not faced with a giant bear superimposed onto a massive Russian flag which stretched across the entire length of the stand opposite the dug-outs as the national anthems rang out.
England had some nervy moments early on with Lescott and Micah Richards – playing the biggest match of their careers so far – struggling as the hosts launched an initial onslaught.
Yury Zhrikov and Alexander Kerzhakov were particularly impressive but the opportunities that fell Russia’s way were half-chances at best.
Paul Robinson did produce one good save to deny Konstatin Zurianov but other than that Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Gareth Barry, operating in a deeper midfield role, stood firm.
All that effort, industry and doggedness received its reward in the most thrilling manner imaginable seconds before the half-hour mark.
England were growing in confidence and Richards, who by now was starting to get into the contest, launched a long ball deep into Russian territory.
On the face of it, Michael Owen is hardly the man you would be wanting to jump for it.
But, not only did the Newcastle man leap, but he knocked it on to Rooney, who took one soft touch on his chest before launching a missile of such venom from the end of his right boot that keeper Vladimir Gabulov barely had a chance to move before it bulged the net underneath his crossbar.
There may have been a suspicion of offside about the goal but no-one of an English persuasion was too bothered as they marvelled at the ultimate route-one move in which the ball never touched the controversial pitch once Richards began it.
After waiting three years for a competitive goal, Rooney had two in a week and looked like becoming the hero McClaren had called for on Tuesday.
Instead, the Manchester United man turned villain after the break.
Campbell had produced a mighty performance to quell repeated Russian raids on the visitors’ goal when Rooney was caught napping as Zurianov burst into the area.
Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo spotted Rooney’s tug on the Russian’s shirt and pointed to the spot.
Substitute Pavluchenko dispatched the penalty with a degree of confidence which belied the pressure he must have been under.
The goal reawakened Russian passions and four minutes later they had even more to celebrate as Pavluchenko fired in from close range after Robinson could only parry Alexei Berezutsky’s shot into his path.
Given the astonishing turnaround, how England had cause to rue Steven Gerrard’s glaring miss immediately after the break when he was left completely free at the far post as Barry delivered the perfect free-kick.
Had the Liverpool man realised the time available to him he would surely have taken a touch. Instead, he attempted a side-footed shot first time and fired wide.
Gerrard’s error was ultimately to prove extremely costly and it could even have been worse for England as Richards almost turned the ball into his own net.
The visitors had one chance at redemption but for the first time all night Campbell erred, nodding Barry’s ball over.