Scotland took a point from England but left their mark on Wembley after a statement performance from Steve Clarke’s side saw the national team keep their hopes of Euro 2020 progress alive.
A draw was a fair result after both sides had chances but failed to take them, but Scotland leave London with more credit after matching a team with a higher reputation and loftier aspirations.
Clarke and his players can now relish Tuesday’s encounter with Croatia at Hampden, hoping to replicate a performance of energy, discipline and purpose, but with added goals if they are to progress to the knockout stages.
After the deflating disappointment of their opening day defeat to Czech Republic, Scotland needed a lift and a pulsating 90 minutes under Wembley’s arch proved that the team aren’t out of place at Europe’s top table this summer.
Clarke and his players had arrived in London full of hope despite the opening day defeat to the Czech Republic that saw the excitement of being back at a major tournament turn to dismay. The head coach had been adamant that the performance of the team had been encouraging, though he knew that his side couldn’t pass up as many chances again.
Both he and Scott McTominay said during their pre-match duties that Scotland would need to take at least a point but for both, not to mention the thousands of fans who had invaded the capital, the appetite was for a victory in this historic fixture.
The supporters, and the squad, were boosted with news that Kieran Tierney had been passed fit to play after the calf injury that kept him out of the loss to the Czechs. Tierney is one of a handful of elite-level players in the squad and the national team would need every one against an England side that has quality in depth.
As expected, the Arsenal defender took his place in the starting line-up in front of a quarter-full Wembley, where the 3200 Scotland fans were making their noisy presence known.
Clarke had a surprise in his selection with four changes, including one bold choice. Billy Gilmour, the 20-year-old who has made a breakthrough into the first-team picture at Champions League winners Chelsea, was handed a starting spot. The midfielder was alongside Callum McGregor and John McGinn in the centre of the park, with Scott McTominay part of the back three. Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams were partnered up front in a team that, on paper, had solidity but also a chance to ask questions of England.
Gareth Southgate had seen his England selection questioned before their opening game but a 1-0 win over Croatia had ensured a positive start for the hosts.
It was Scotland who made a positive start on Friday, with Che Adams taking a touch to control a Stephen O’Donnell cross before firing in a shot that John Stones had to block but the England defender went closer minutes later.
An England corner was curled in and Stone rose unmarked to powerfully head towards goal but saw the ball come off the post. Soon afterwards Phil Foden had a chance and after John McGinn was booked and England’s support smelled blood, things began to look a little fraught.
It just took a spell of possession to restore Scotland’s calm. After holding on to the ball for a little longer than the Wembley crowd expected, murmurs turned to boos from the home fans as the direction of play turned. Gilmour, McGregor and McGinn started to gain the upper hand in midfield, Tierney shot over the bar and Adams and Lyndon Dykes turned over play with constant hustle. There was an intensity in the stadium with what some had predicted as a one-sided game turning out to be a well-matched battle.
Not that Scotland could get comfortable. After a quiet start, Harry Kane reminded the defence of his danger when he headed wide of David Marshall’s goal. The flag was up but the striker’s ability to slip away and find space needed to be noted.
Scotland soon served notice of their own danger with a golden chance of their own. Tierney and Robertson combined on the left and the Arsenal defender arced a ball to the back post. O’Donnell met it as it dropped and his volley was saved by Jordan Pickford and Adams headed the rebound wide. The Tartan Army made their approval known.
England continued to probe and hold possession at length but looked short on ideas and unable to create and with Scotland settling in, the crowd grew restless and a little nervy. As half-time drew near, the sporadic outbreaks of Three Lions has faded away and been replaced by frustrated whistling. England knew they were in a game.
If Clarke had the easier half-time team talk, Southgate had the most effective. England came out roaring, forcing an early corner and then keeping Marshall on his toes when Mason Mount put a shot on target after Kane, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden had combined in the build-up. The Wembley crowd were won over again and were behind their team.
A Robertson break down the wing showed it wasn’t one-way traffic but England were alive again and Foden was electric, bringing fans to their feet with one mazy run and causing concern in the Scotland ranks with his pace and movement.
After riding out a tough spell, the visitors forced a corner just after the hour mark and it brought respite as much as opportunity.
Scotland had another major chance when a corner found its way to Dykes. The forward smashed in a powerful shot but saw Reece James head it away.
England made a change, surprisingly withdrawing Foden to introduce Jack Grealish but the substitution of one elite talent for another made no real impact on Scotland, who continued to defend resolutely but also build play and look for openings in a controlled and confident manner.
Clarke’s side still had to soak up pressure in spells and be wary of England’s big names but there was a demonstration of their effective defending, but also England’s slightly lacklustre showing in attack, when Kane was subbed off for Marcus Rashford.
Scotland made a change of their own when Stuart Armstrong came on to replace Gilmour, who was feted for a performance as good as any on the pitch.
Sterling had claims for a penalty waved away and England seemed desperate as the game entered the final ten minutes. Scotland stroked the ball about to provoke boos from the home support and Kevin Nisbet replaced Adams in a move that signalled that there was still more than a single point to be aimed for.
A chorus of Flower of Scotland started in the 88th minute and its rise in volume over the grumbling of the England fans told the story of who was happier as the final whistle neared.
After a disciplined and clever showing, there was still time for brief panic though. A traditional stramash in the Scotland box had hearts in mouths before McGinn thumped the ball upfield and seconds later the contest was brought to an end.
England trudged off to face questions about their disappointing showing but Scotland took plaudits to go with their point.