England 3 Scotland 0: Victorious hosts make most of Scots' generosity
THE contrasting responses of the two managers told their own story.
As Gareth Southgate hailed each of England’s three goals with a fist pump celebration that betrayed a mixture of elation and relief, Gordon Strachan slumped deeper into his seat on the bench.
Much had been made ahead of this 113th instalment of football’s oldest rivalry about the possible ramifications for each manager.
Anything but an England victory would leave Southgate under threat. A heavy Scotland defeat, meanwhile, could spell the end of Strachan’s near four-year reign.
By full-time, the former Leeds United captain was the man looking nervously over his shoulder.
This defeat against the Auld Enemy is bad at any time, but this effectively means Scotland’s hopes of reaching the 2018 World Cup are over.
It was, though, difficult not to feel sympathy for Strachan. Not only is Scotland’s pool of talent ridiculously small right now but, after Daniel Sturridge’s eighth international goal had put the hosts ahead, his side proceeded to waste no fewer than three gilt-edged opportunities to equalise.
Had just one of those gone in then the night could have worked out very differently.
Instead, Strachan and his players returned north of the border having suffered their country’s heaviest defeat to England since Don Revie’s side triumphed 5-1 at Wembley in 1975.
As for Southgate, he is surely now a shoo-in to succeed Sam Allardyce as the next permanent manager of the Three Lions.
Technically, he still has Tuesday’s friendly against Spain to complete his four-game stint in interim charge.
But the die has surely been cast and when the qualification campaign resumes in March with the visit of Lithuania it is difficult to envisage anyone but the former Middlesbrough manager occupying the Wembley dugout.
Southgate’s future was cemented by three headed goals in an encounter that failed to live up to the pre-match hype.
This 144-year rivalry has rarely been one for the purist. Too much has rested on the outcome down the years for that.
What there invariably has been, though, amid the 100mph fare that has characterised this fixture is the potential for quality to light up proceedings.
All last night proved was that Graeme Souness had been spot on with his assertion during the build-up that the current crop of footballers representing England and Scotland lacks the quality of their predecessors.
This was very much Championship football rather than Champions League. Too many misplaced passes and wrong options being taken underlined why these two nations have endured such a miserable 2016.
On last night’s evidence, it is difficult to envisage things changing drastically any time soon for either side even if England were worthy winners after breaching a generous visiting backline three times.
The first occasion came on 27 minutes courtesy of a right-wing cross from Kyle Walker that Sturridge met with a header that gave Craig Gordon no hope of keeping out.
England doubled their advantage five minutes into the second half and, again, it was poor marking from the visitors that proved their undoing as Adam Lallana ghosted into the six-yard box to head past Gordon.
Just after the hour, Scotland were again caught out by a decent delivery as Wayne Rooney’s corner was flicked into the net by Gary Cahill. After that, there was no way back for a visiting side who knew, deep down, that a touch of finesse at vital times on their own part could have led to a different outcome.
Grant Hanley, a bit-part player at Newcastle United but first choice for his country, was culpable in squandering the first of those openings after being picked out unmarked by Robert Snodgrass’s corner.
He was 10 yards from goal, but the header was woeful, the ball flying high and wide to the relief of a flat-footed England defence.
Three minutes later, the hosts were again exposed as Leigh Griffiths and Snodgrass broke on halfway.
A simple pass from the Celtic striker was all that was needed to put the Hull City talisman through on goal but he could not even manage that and England, again, had been handed a reprieve.
That good fortune continued in the second half, just three minutes having been played when Lee Wallace’s cross found James Forrest after a clever dummy from Griffiths.
However, as the Tartan Army rose to acclaim a likely equaliser, the Celtic man managed to drag his shot wide and with it went any hopes of Scotland taking anything off their neighbours thanks to Lallana and Cahill.
England should have put more of a polish on proceedings with only Raheem Sterling able to reveal just how he missed an open goal from two yards out after being picked out by Jordan Henderson. It was an awful miss but one that, thanks to Scotland’s own wastefulness, did not prove costly.
No doubt, the return journey north for Strachan and his players will have been filled with plenty of ‘what ifs?’ With good cause, too, but the bottom line is that Scotland’s already thin hopes of qualifying look to be over.
As for Southgate, he can surely look forward to next year’s resumption of the World Cup campaign knowing that, with second-placed Slovenia still to visit Wembley, qualification is very much in the hands of his side.
England: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose; Henderson, Dier; Sterling, Rooney, Lallana; Sturridge (Vardy 74). Unused substitutes: Heaton, Pickford, Clyne, Walcott, Jagielka, Bertrand, Townsend, Kane, Rashford, Wilshere, Lingard.
Scotland: Gordon; Anya (Paterson 79), Hanley, Berra, Wallace; Brown, Fletcher; Forrest, Snodgrass (Ritchie 81), Morrison (McArthur 66); Griffiths. Unused substitutes: Marshall, Hamilton, C Martin, R Martin, Naismith, Fletcher, Bannan, Burke, Kingsley.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).