England labour to an uninspiring draw with Scotland at Euro 2020
Scotland changed the whole mood of England’s Euro 2020 campaign at Wembley last night – with a fair amount of help from their hosts.
The Three Lions team that had been so exhilarating in the first 25 minutes against Croatia on Sunday laboured to a 0-0 draw against opponents who were supposed to be cannon fodder, but were never likely to be.
From football coming home in the weekend sunshine, there were boos at the end of an evening as dank as England’s football.
In football, having more talent is only half the battle. Scotland made the most of what they have and England did not.
So brilliant in the pre-Covid qualifying, England have struggled to unlock the considerable flair at their disposal since.
Their captain, striker and 2018 World Cup golden boot winner Harry Kane looks a shadow of himself.
Manager Gareth Southgate made the crowd-pleasing move of bringing Jack Grealish off the bench for the final half-hour but he was no more able to unlock a Scotland defence reinforced by the return of Kieran Tierney than anyone else.
That showed it was about more than just the performance of individuals, although there was no one who could seriously claim that on last night’s form they would have won England the game if only they had a bit better service.
The expectation was that England would be qualified by now, able to pick and choose how they approached the last game. Such is the naff format which sees two thirds of the teams go into the last 16, England will stay in, but they cannot afford to be at half tilt against the Czech Republic on Tuesday because of what another lacklustre performance would do for morale.
It even changes the perspective of that Croatia win. Now it was a 1-0 victory where they only had two shots on target, more than a professional performance to see off World Cup runners-up.
Derbies have a habit of downplaying quality in favour of passion, and that is what happened at Wembley.
The Tartan Army had been a noisy presence ever since the advance party landed in London the previous day. If whoever came up with the lyrics for John McGinn’s song was only on royalties they could have bought him from Aston Villa themselves. The stands sounded more like Hampden than Wembley in the warm-up.
Persistent rain and chilly conditions added to the feeling of a proper thud and blunder all-British encounter.
Both national anthems were sung and booed with equal gusto, though when it came to both sides taking the knee, the reception was overwhelmingly positive.
Che Adams, the former Sheffield United striker brought into Scotland’s XI had the first shot of the game, blocked by the excellent John Stones.
After a quarter of an hour or so it looked like England had found their feet, unmarked Barnsley-born defender Stones hanging in the air to head a corner Mason Mount won then took against the post.
When Scott McTominay, pulled into a back three Liam Cooper was withdrawn from to accommodate Billy Gilmour’s impressive full debut, was robbed, Mount shot wide.
It was not the tide turning.
Kalvin Phillips produced a lovely pass from right-back bettered only by Phil Foden’s touch but like Kane from a curling Reece James cross, he was both offside and off target.
Considering England had brought James and Luke Shaw in for Sheffield’s Kyle Walker and former Barnsley loanee Kieran Trippier to provide more attacking oomph from full-back, it was not really coming. Late in the half the home fans began to urge them on out of frustration.
Stephen O’Donnell forced a good Jordan Pickford save when Andy Robertson and the fit-again Tierney combined on the left.
England started the second half more positively, but not at the level they ought to have been. Tierney and Robertson cut out dangerous low crosses, James shot over after being picked out by Kane.
The sight of Grealish tying up his boots on the big screen brought cheers from the crowd, but he was not able to rescue things when he came on.
James headed off the line at a corner Tyrone Mings conceded. Adams let England off with a wild shot when the ball dropped to him at the far post.
By and large there was a lot of huffing and puffing but not enough else, at least not for the favourites.
Harry Maguire’s promised run-out went by the wayside and with Mings playing so well and qualification not yet in the bag, Tuesday no longer offers the chance of a freebie run-out for him or the unused Henderson. Kane’s need for more match-time will have to take a backseat to picking the best centre-forward.
It is only a temporary setback, but points at more worrying problems.
England: Pickford; James, Stones, Mings, Shaw; Phillips, Rice, Mount; Foden (Grealish 63), Kane (Rashford 74), Sterling. Unused substitutes: Maguire, Henderson, Trippier, Ramsdale, Coady, Sancho, Calvert-Lewin, Chilwell, Johnstone, Bellingham.
Scotland: Marshall; Hanley, McTominay, Tierney; O’Donnell, McGregor, Gilmour (Armstrong 76), McGinn, Robertson; Adams (Nisbet 85), Dykes. Unused substitutes: Christie, Gordon, Fleck, Cooper, Fraser, McLaughlin, Patterson, Hendry, Forrest, McKenna.
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain).