Alan Pattullo: Billy Gilmour encapsulates bold Scotland performance at Wembley - there really might be something for us at Euro 2020

As suspicious as we have learned to become of good starts, it was very easy to be lulled into the belief that there might, after all this time, all the heartache, really be something in this for Scotland.

Scotland's Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong scramble the ball with Declan Rice of England.
Scotland's Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong scramble the ball with Declan Rice of England.

And so it proved. Steve Clarke s side started well and simply got better.

The incessant rain had even acted to brighten the Scots’ outlook. Famous nights so often unfold in these conditions. David Marshall was bestowed with the luck that deserted him on Monday against Czech Republic. His post left hand post prevented England taking a lead after just 12 minutes when John Stones rose unmarked in the box to connect well with Mason Mount’s corner.

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Scotland did not just survive the next 78 minutes. They made their own chances and took the game to the slightly bedraggled, at times bewildered opposition. This hadn’t been the plan.

Gareth Southgate was the manager making frantic ‘calm down’ gestures to his players on the sidelines.

And then. And then… Well, then Clarke took Billy Gilmour off, causing Scots everywhere to throw up their hands and wonder what was he thinking, what was he doing, why was he robbing his own team of someone who could quite reasonably be described as Scotland’s best player on the night?

The long hug on the touchline from Clarke said everything about how well the midfielder had performed.

The identity of his replacement did not fill everyone with confidence either given Stuart Armstrong was the player who gave the ball away in the final moments of the last meeting between the teams, when England equalised right at the death through Harry Kane.

But there was no Kane on the field at this point. He had departed the scene two minutes earlier, more evidence of England’s surprising struggles.

Armstrong played his part on a night when Scotland, just as they did against Serbia in Belgrade, threw off an old tendency to be left with less than they deserved. That said, it could be claimed this happened here as well.

Clarke’s side might have been worth a win. They might even have been going into the last match of the group on Tuesday still entertaining notions of winning it. But a point, the very least they required, will do for now.

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Clarke was true to his word. Not only had he brought his raincoat rather than a brolly, he had also made changes, including the one Scottish supporters most fervently wished to see.

The rumour had spread from early in the afternoon. You probably heard it yourself. The tartan clad carrier pigeons of Trafalgar Square passed it on to one another excitedly between sips from bottles and cans.

Billy Clifford Gilmour was starting. The news swept through the city in the manner one hopes a virus did not. There was certainly minimal social distancing happening on Wembley Way in the hours before kick-off.

Gilmour’s name got the biggest cheer when the teams were read out at just before 7.30pm. Just 40 minutes of senior international action to his name and a week into his twenties, Gilmour was making his first start in Scotland’s biggest game of the millennium.

In a newspaper column, Jose Mourinho had advised his old assistant manager to turn to Gilmour. He also suggested dropping Scott McTominay into the back three from midfield. Perhaps there is still a line of communication operating between Clarke and the Special One, because that’s what the Scotland manager chose to do.

There were no regrets. Mourinho knows what’s what. Gilmour kept it simple and made himself available to take the ball from his centre-backs, no matter how tight the situation. Scotland were playing keepball. Against England. At Wembley.

Gilmour made the Wembley stage his own. We are not saying he looked comfortable enough to start but doing keepie-ups but, well, he looked comfortable enough to start doing keepie ups.

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What a performance. It evoked memories of Barry Ferguson’s coming of age performance in a Scotland shirt on the same patch of grass 21 years earlier.

Phil, Phil who? we were permitted to ask when it came to the question of precocious youngsters on show. Foden took his leave just after the hour mark. Lovely player though he is, Stephen O’Donnell had proved more effective in an attacking sense. The 19-year-old Manchester City forward was supposed to have the Scotland right wing back on toast.

O’Donnell even almost scored the opener in the first-half when he was denied by a fine one-handed save by Jordan Pickford. He might look like he’s running over furrows in a field but he showed why his manager was so keen to defend the Motherwell player from his critics following the Czech Republic defeat.

From the moment John McGinn robbed Raheem Sterling in the opening moments, the Scottish midfield seemed a different proposition than the malfunctioning department we watched with rising dismay on Monday against Czech Republic. A sweeping move down the right, involving a brisk pass from Gilmour, confirmed Clarke had got the selection spot on. Adams could not profit from O’Donnell’s neat cutback, with Stones getting in the way of his shot.

Gilmour immediately matched up against Mason Mount. It was notable that Mount followed him around as much he tracked his Chelsea team-mate, who is two years older and far more experienced at this level.

England, with so much creativity at their disposal, could not shake off their dogged opponents. Jack Grealish warming up on touchline roused the home fans. They were less enthusiastic when it was Foden who was sacrificed for the Aston Villa playmaker. The sight of Grealish sprawled on the turf after being chased into his own half by O’Donnell as the minutes ticked down was a pleasing one for Scots.

But it was not roughhouse tactics that brought the reward of a point. It was boldness encapsulated in a little lad from Ardrossan with the world at his feet.

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