Billy Gilmour was supposed to be starting. After Scotland’s midfield misfired against the Czech Republic, the 20-year-old was appointed by the Tartan Army as the missing link, the player who could take the ball from defence and start off attacks. So impressive for Chelsea when given the chance, pundits north and south of the border joined the clamour.
Then, at 6.30pm, the confirmation came. Steve Clarke could not resist it, and curried favour with a section of the support so keen for Gilmour to be given the chance. What a place to make your first international start, and only your second cap. Wembley, against England, in a match so pivotal for Scotland’s Group D hopes.
Stationed to the right of a midfield three, he would drop deep alongside Callum McGregor and screen the defence. In possession, he would offer an option to the back-three.
His first touch came in the fourth minute, much higher up the field. His neat reverse ball to O’Donnell resulted in a good chance being created for Che Adams. Seconds later he was involved at the other end, being robbed by Mason Mount.
His battle with opposite number Mount developed quickly. Both represent Chelsea at club level and know each other well. The Englishman only escaped his foe once in the first half, on 15 minutes, but could not finish from close in. A wee let-off for the wee man.
To be honest, that was the only negative for Gilmour in the first half. What a lovely passer of the football he is. Twenty passes attempted, 20 completed in the opening 45. He was always looking to go forward but intelligent enough not to force it. He spun Mount on 21 minutes and strode forward. Towards the end of the half, he released John McGinn in a promising position. He was at home at Wembley. He was one of the best players on the pitch.
It’s not just on the ball that Gilmour had an influence. He was always gesturing, telling his team-mates where to be and where the ball should go. For a 20-year-old, leadership qualities shone through. At half time, STV pundit John Collins purred: “Billy Gilmour is the real deal, right now.” He’s got a fan there alright.
The big question was, after such a high-quality first half, could Gilmour keep it up in the second period?
His first two involvements weren’t the best, caught out by an England attack and then – incredibly – a wasted pass, getting the weight wrong on the break. As England turned it up, Gilmour and his fellow Scots felt the heat.
That was only an aberration. By 50 minutes he was back to default mode, on the ball and keeping Scotland’s rhythm going. He was then crafty in committing one of those fouls that was needed, stopping Harry Kane as he burst forward.
As the game went deeper, Gilmour still got on the ball, but signs of fatigue showed. His level dipped by ten per cent, only natural for one so tender of years and inexperienced on this stage. Stuart Armstrong replaced him on 77 minutes.
We’d seen enough, though. Take a bow, young man. You will be a mainstay of this team for years to come.