THE return of the oldest international fixture in world football provided Scotland with further glimpses of hope for the future under Gordon Strachan.
Scorers: England - Walcott (29); Welbeck (53); Lambert (70); Scotland - Morrison (11), Miller (49)
However, it also provided yet more anguish for the Scottish supporters, who watched their side fall to defeat after twice taking the lead at Wembley.
Substitute Rickie Lambert scored the all-important winner with 18 minutes left just three minutes after replacing Wayne Rooney to make his international debut. The Southampton striker also hit the post in the final minutes. In truth, the tide had begun to turn again before he came on, but Scotland gave England plenty to think about after opening the scoring after just 11 minutes with a goal from James Morrison that eluded an unimpressive-looking Joe Hart.
Although Theo Walcott equalised before half-time the irrepressible Kenny Miller showed why Strachan is resisting calls to retire the striker with the goal of the game three minutes after half-time. Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck restored parity with a header
before Lambert’s intervention.
The heavens opened just before kick-off and provided the Wembley turf with a pleasing sheen, one that helped the ball to zip across it. Has much changed since the last clash between these two old foes? Both anthems were booed by the opposition supporters, so perhaps not. However, the corporate monolith that is the new Wembley helped take the edge off the rivalry. We were treated to a competitive, hell-for-leather edition of a once annual fixture that some believe should not be reinstated because of the gulf in talent that exists between the teams. Those who once held this opinion were forced to revise it by the end of an enthralling 90 minutes. England, despite their struggles, probably deserved victory in the end.
Scotland had been quick to pour forward and Robert Snodgrass attempted to test Hart in the opening seconds, but the shot was blocked. Giving the error-prone ‘keeper something to think about appeared part of the game plan and it was one that brought quick reward, when Scotland took the lead after only 11 minutes. Though Miller’s inclusion had been met with some displeasure, he helped create the chance.
As expected, Rooney started for England, while Scotland turned to Miller, who won his 69th cap. Remarkably, although his international career spans 12 years, this was his first chance to play against England, and the Scottish management team were keen for the striker to be given the opportunity to lead the line.
Scotland had first to survive a scare when Rooney could not get sufficient purchase on a side-foot effort from Leighton Baines’ cross. But Scotland were swiftly up the other end of the pitch again and Miller’s persistence earned the visitors a corner, which Shaun Maloney took.
The ball was only half cleared by Welbeck and Morrison took two touches as he assessed his options. He then drilled a shot towards goal. While it might have looked at first as though the ball had taken a deflection, replays provided Hart with little comfort. He had allowed the shot to go through him having seemingly attempted to make a curious save with his elbows.
Yet again a player born in the North-east of England had given Scotland the lead at Wembley, 14 years after Don Hutchison’s first half header had filled the visitors with hope as they attempted to overturn a two goal deficit in the second leg of their Euro 2000 play-off encounter. The stakes were not so high this time but Morrison clearly enjoyed the strike nevertheless – as did what looked like about 25,000 Scottish supporters.
Despite the hype and the hoards of Scots who had made the journey south, the stadium was some way short of a sell-out. Seven years after the new Wembley re-opened, Scotland had been invited to try it out for size. It was certainly suiting Strachan’s side rather well in the early stages. Scotland were retaining possession well and there were even some flashes of gallusness that recalled Jim Baxter from all those years ago.
Scott Brown had cautioned anyone against expecting theatrics as he became the latest son of Hill of Beath to perform for Scotland at Wembley. However, it took him only 12 minutes to execute a back-heel flick to Miller as Scotland enjoyed surfing the wave of emotion and confidence that surged through the side on the back of taking an unexpected Wembley lead.
They were right to enjoy it while they could. There was concern that Scotland might be forced to cope with a fast and furious England response. While it did not come immediately, it arrived eventually. Pace had always looked likely to be the cause of Scotland’s undoing and so it proved, as Walcott beat the off-side trap to collect Tom Cleverley’s neat ball inside Steven Whittaker. The Arsenal winger then turned inside the full-back again before slipping the ball past Allan McGregor.
The often-criticised Cleverley was becoming an influential operator and he might have put England ahead had he been able to connect more cleanly when given an excellent chance to score.
Having started so brightly, Scotland were now simply aiming to reach the interval on level terms, but there was still plenty for Strachan to feel satisfied about – and there was more to come.
Just three minutes after half-time, Miller further justified his inclusion with a goal that was fit to grace Wembley. The game was still settling down again after the re-start when Hutton slung a cross into the middle. Miller shielded the ball well from Gary Cahill, and then tricked the defender with a shimmy which took the ball onto his left foot. His finish was sweet into the corner and on this occasion Hart could not be faulted.
Somehow McGregor then prevented England equalising only two minutes later with a fine diving save to keep out a deflected header towards his own goal from Russell Martin. Scotland were unable to preserve their lead for much longer. Welbeck out-jumped a static Scottish defence to head in Steven Gerrard’s free-kick to make it 2-2. The case for the restoration of this fixture on an annual basis was becoming ever stronger.
However, there was an unpleasant sting in this particular game’s tail as far as Scotland were concerned as England took the lead for the first time in the match. It could not be denied that the identity of the goalscorer meant the game had been provided with a fairytale ending for someone once described as a journeyman striker.
Lambert, who replaced Rooney, had only been on the park for five minutes when he met Baines’ corner to head powerfully into the net. Not bad for an ex Rochdale and Stockport County striker. But it made for the cruelest of endings for Scotland.
England: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Jagielka (Jones 84),Baines, Cleverley (Milner 67), Gerrard (Oxlade-Chamberlain 62), Wilshere (Lampard 46), Walcott (Zaha 75), Rooney (Lambert 67), Welbeck. Subs not used: Foster, Johnson, Cole, Smalling, Defoe, Ruddy.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Martin, Hanley, Whittaker, Snodgrass (Conway 66), Morrison (Rhodes 82), Brown, Forrest (Mulgrew 67), Maloney (Naismith 86), Miller (Griffiths 73). Subs not used: Gilks, McArthur, Burke, Adam, Webster, Bannan, Mackay-Steven, Dorrans, Boyd, Greer, Hammell, Marshall.