Scotland were knocked out by holders England for the second year in a row at the Toulon Tournament semi-final stage as a brilliant solo goal from Celtic’s Mikey Johnston counted for nothing after a second-half collapse.
Scot Gemmill’s under-21s led at the break in Aubagne and looked good value to qualify for their first-ever final at the event.
But Aidy Boothroyd’s England came out after the interval and pinned a retreating Scotland back. And they netted two goals in a terrible ten- minute spell for the Scots, with Arsenal ace Eddie Nketiah helping himself to a double.
It means England are going for their third Toulon title in a row, while Scotland will have to lift themselves now for Saturday’s third and fourth place play-off.
Gemmill admitted that it had been a disappointing display from his side after the break.
He said: “The players know the second half wasn’t good enough. The first half was, but the second wasn’t. It’s as simple as that.
“Young players can be inconsistent at this level because they are still learning to play, especially against a very good side like England. You have to credit England for their reaction after the break.
“But for us, we didn’t do enough. We knew we would have to contain them for the whole game.
“We were excellent in the first half. It’s very difficult to do that and I felt we were very, very close to executing our gameplan. It’s fine margins and when you play against a very top team you get punished.
“We had several chances in the first half and played so well but were only 1-0 up. In the second half, we have to accept we came up short. To concede three goals in the second half is extremely disappointing.
“Last year we came up very short. This year there is a lot to be positive about because of the first-half performance.
“We really pushed England. There’s a lot to be proud about.
“To top a group featuring France and teams from Africa and Asia, it’s a fantastic achievement to top the group and it’s not over yet because we will be going all out to beat Turkey.”
Scotland were the better side in the first half and they came close to the opener when a clipped pass over the top from Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour saw captain Oliver Burke collect and turn on the jets down the right flank and motor past Chelsea defender Jake Clarke-Salter before bursting through and cracking an angled shot against the post.
And it was the Scots who drew first blood with yet another stunning goal – which have been a feature of this year’s Toulon Tournament.
There seemed little danger when Johnston collected Iain Wilson’s pass on the left wing.
But the Parkhead talent deftly slalomed his way in and out of two English defenders which propelled him into the box, where he still had Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny’s in front of him.
Johnston beat him for pace before whipping in a brilliant shot, which proved too much for former Aberdeen and Kilmarnock loan keeper Freddie Woodman as it fizzed past him into the net.
It was a brilliant strike and was up there with Burke’s sensational 70-yard run for his goal against South Korea on Saturday.
However, the Hoops kid admitted his goal didn’t count for much because of the result.
He said: “ It was a decent goal but I’m just really gutted about the result.
“When the dust settles I’ll probably look back and think it was a good goal.
“We have to be encouraged by what we’ve done this year. At this stage a year ago we didn’t lay a glove on England. It was night and day, we gave them much more of a game today so there’s positives to take out of it.”
England were just too strong for the Scots after the break, although they didn’t help themselves by sitting far too deep and Everton’s Callum Connolly levelled before Nketiah put England into the lead with a goal that matched Johnston’s for quality. The Gunners striker killed the contest late on with an excellent strike.
England under-21 coach Boothroyd said: “Scotland always play with their hearts and are always tough opposition. When Johnston went through and scored that fantastic goal, I thought ‘here we go.’ But we were patient and a lot better in the second half.
“Scotland gave their all but in the end I thought our quality shone through and we deserved it. They worked their socks off. It was a terrific goal. The fact that Scotland have got to two semi-finals in a row with this calibre of teams just shows there is a lot of work being done up there.
“We have got strength in depth all the way through the system. We are blessed with that.”