England had the points on the board, they had star quality and the theory was that they would take home their favoritism, making a statement en route to the knockout stages of this European Championship.
Instead, it turned into a night of frustration for them, as Gareth Southgate’s flaws in the attack plan were recorded at Wembley and Scotland reveled in showing their old rivals that it’s dangerous business to write them off.
On a night that will endure in the memory of the small band of Scottish fans inside Wembley, his team challenged England, keeping them at arm’s length with a spirited performance and no small quality.
They even had the opportunity to win more than the draw, most notably a Stephen O’Donnell volley that extended Jordan Pickford in the first half and they will believe that a first qualification to the knockout rounds of an important final is already underway, if they can. beat Croatia in their last group tie.
The draw was not a disaster for England, far from it, but the performance left a lot to be desired and the loud boos that greeted the team at halftime and at full time told their own story.
As he was in the win over Croatia, Harry Kane was unable to exert any influence and was substituted once again and it was hard to remember that England really turned up the heat with their work in open play. The closest they came to scoring was an early header from John Stones in a corner that hit the vertical.
It was the 115th meeting of nations, the latest installment in a drama dating back to 1872, although it was only the second time they had met in a grand final. The first was during Euro 96. The story was inescapable and the players on both sides are well trained in it. But it was about the here and now, what was at stake and the fundamental thrill of having the fans back inside Wembley for a final tie.
It wasn’t like the old days, for obvious reasons, with the stadium only a quarter full, but those present were still able to create a boisterous atmosphere, the nervous tone set when home support booed loudly the Scottish anthem. It is sad to report that there were also boos as players from both teams knelt before kick-off, although cheers from the majority quickly drowned them out.
Southgate wanted to get on the front foot and the change in his wings was geared towards that end, particularly Luke Shaw for Kieran Trippier on the left; a more natural and aggressive option. There were but a few glimpses of Shaw in the first half as Reece James struggled on the other side.
It was fast and furious; Physical, too, fouls stinging the initial exchanges and the referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, having to fight to assert his authority. England did not want her to fall apart, but she felt that way for long periods before the interval.
He said so much about England’s lack of creativity and cohesion in the first half that their only real chance came from a corner. What an opportunity it was, Scotland’s defense faded to allow the Stones a free jump on the Mason Mount delivery in 12 minutes. He hit it against the post.
Other than that, there were flickers from the energetic Mount, but make no mistake, Scotland could have scored before the break and would have rewarded the positivity of their approach.
Che Adams saw an early shot blocked by the Stones after he fell into space, but the big opportunity came in the 32nd minute when Kieran Tierney, who fell back, beat James to cross and O’Donnell caught his volley sweetly. He forced Pickford to make an excellent low save, and Adams just couldn’t get over the rebound.
Scotland’s growing confidence was reflected as they dragged England away with a long sequence of passes in the 44th minute, the play ending when Adams fell again and fired on goal, earning a corner through a deflection. Pickford was furious. England had to be better.
There were boos from some England supporters at the halftime whistle, showing frustration. Scotland were fiercely engaged, well trained in their 5-3-2 formation and there were times when they might have wondered where all these England attackers were. When Kane plunged into wide areas seeking participation, Scotland had to cheer up.
England pushed harder and harder as the second-half minutes wore on, trying to make something happen, but it was easy to fear that Scotland might score a goal at the other end.
It was that kind of night, when England couldn’t assert the levels of control that they would have liked. Adams was a threat and Lyndon Dykes nearly hit home after a corner only for James to clear his head. The shot seemed deflected.
England continued to work on creative terms, an impulse from James flying high in the 55th minute, an isolated moment to get the pulse racing, and Southgate turned to Jack Grealish after the hour, retiring the ineffective Phil Foden.
Grealish was unable to shape the breakthrough. Southgate has a lot to ponder.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism