England 0-0 Scotland
- England failed to win their much-anticipated group match against neighbours Scotland, as they laboured to a 0-0 draw
- Scotland had the better of the game, but England are nevertheless all but through
There was a moment midway through the second half when goalkeeper Jordan Pickford pinged an outrageous first-time pass, under pressure, that dropped perfectly on Raheem Sterling’s foot, 70 metres away. It was a reminder of England’s incredible quality, just when you really needed reminding. England struggled to impose themselves on the most important edition of international football’s oldest rivalry. Scotland meanwhile had no problems whatsoever imposing themselves on England. It was thanks to their hunger and their work-rate that Steve Clarke’s side took a fully deserved point away from a Wembley that’s probably still singing now.
Billed as a repeat of the Euro 96 meeting between these sides when Paul Gascoigne scored perhaps England’s greatest ever goal, this one never quite did feel the same. Sure, Phil Foden had topped up the hair-dye just in case the chance for a flick-and-volley ever opened up. But the afternoon heat of that 1996 classic and of England’s opener against Croatia last Sunday was nowhere to be seen. Instead, they returned to Wembley on a drizzly evening. England has its fair share of rainfall, but blimey so does Scotland. A footballing leveller, some would say. The Scots would argue their hard-fought draw was born of a lot more than a few drops of rain. They’d have a point.Embed from Getty Images
Luke Shaw and Reece James came in at full-back for England. Gareth Southgate has options — and, while keeping some level of continuity, he isn’t afraid to use them. But while fans of Foden will now argue he should have stayed on and Jack Grealish admirers will claim their man should have started, this was just one of those nights. One of those nights when a totally different team-sheet would have changed little if anything. England’s best performer was Pickford. That says a great deal about how it all unfolded.
All the talk before the match was about Scotland’s left flank, where in Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney they have two outstanding full-backs both squeezed into a 3-5-2 system. England fans know what that’s like, albeit on the other side. Yet it was down the right that the visitors fathomed the game’s first chance. Stephen O’Donnell crossed to Ché Adams, whose fourth-minute shot was blocked.
England breathed a sigh of relief early on, but came even closer to the game’s first goal soon after when John Stones’ majestic leap and header from a corner bounced off the post. A first sight of goal for the favourites, who must have thought they’d grow into this game. They did anything but. Once Raheem Sterling’s pull-back had been put wide from close in by Mason Mount, they created very little else all night. 13 minutes had been played. Scotland didn’t know it yet, but they’d weathered the storm — England’s only storm. The rain kept pouring, the Tartan Army kept chanting, but England only just kept Scotland at bay.Embed from Getty Images
Pickford was the one player who didn’t shy away from risks and who didn’t let England down. When O’Donnell volleyed towards the bottom corner, the Everton keeper looked beaten — until his right arm clawed the ball away at full stretch. Adams readjusted to reach the rebound, but could only head wide. It was the closest either side came in a cagey first half that ended goalless. Scotland were halfway there.
England started the second 45 with the sort of impetus that was sorely lacking from them in the first. Mount drove a low shot from range that skidded off the surface on its way to go. David Marshall was down sharply to send it wide of his post. Mount’s Chelsea teammate Reece James was next to have a go from distance, but there was to be no repeat of his thunderous strike against Brighton at the beginning of the season. The Champions League winner leaned back and fired just over.
Wembley was only a quarter full due to obvious reasons. But you wouldn’t have known. The Tartan Army only upped their cheers and jeers as the England faithful stopped their singing and placed their heads in their hands one by one. Scotland grew back into the fixture, and no introduction from the Three Lions’ bench was going to change that. Once the camera settled on Jack Grealish as he got ready to warm up, half of Wembley awoke and cheered. The Aston Villa man couldn’t contain his smile. Sat behind him on the bench, Marcus Rashford gave an awkward, wry smile of his own.Embed from Getty Images
But Grealish and Rashford could do little to break down Scotland’s resolute defence once introduced. The noise Wembley made when Grealish was warming up felt like a throwback to a time when England were a group of disjointed superstars. The era when David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and others were world-wide icons quite apart from football. But togetherness gets you a long way in international football. Scotland didn’t cling on. They took the game to England. They deserved their point.
The man who had made way for Rashford was Harry Kane. He muttered away to himself as he walked off, looking strangely overcome by his own personal adversity. This time three years ago, he was having the summer of his life with England in Russia. One goal in two fixtures — and none for Kane — leaves England in trouble here, whether or not they’ve kept two clean-sheets from two. If England can be pressed off the park quite this easily, attention might well turn to the next World Cup very quickly indeed.