A goalless draw, earned with a convincing performance and controlled aggression, helped repair some of the damage from Monday’s defeat by Czech Republic at Hampden Park.
Billy Gilmour, making his first international start, was named man of the match, although in truth that honour could have gone to a number of players in dark blue. It was that type of night as the Scots earned their first Group D point.
They now enter their final Group D match against Croatia knowing a win could take them into the knockout phase of a major tournament for the first time in history. The Czechs and Croatia drew 1-1 earlier in the day, so the winner of Scotland v Croatia will have a strong chance of progress as both nations currently sit on one point.
Excitement will only build ahead of that tie on Tuesday, but for now there was much to enjoy about this Scottish display.
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Passion and concentration were in equal display and a number of chances created by both sides over the course of the match. The end result, greeted by widespread booing from the English support, was a huge shot in the arm for Scotland’s hopes of progress.
After several days of diving into soap-covered fountains in and around London city centre, the Tartan Army arrived at Wembley in typically boisterous mood. Monday’s Czech Republic defeat had been forgotten, perhaps lost in a beery haze. This was an opportunity to witness a piece of history for those lucky enough to have tickets.
Tens of thousands more remained in the city, locked in pubs and beer gardens hoping Steve Clarke’s side could execute a Group D upset. England boast a forward line to terrify any defender in Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden.
Clarke doesn’t have quite the same talent pool as Gareth Southgate but bravely handed 20-year-old Chelsea midfielder Gilmour his third senior cap. Pitching the youngster from Ardrossan into such a high-octane occasion was a gamble worth taking given his undoubted ability to control games.
Che Adams also started in attack alongside Lyndon Dykes, with Scott McTominay shunted back to centre-back in place of Jack Hendry. Kieran Tierney was fit to return. England restored full-backs Reece James and Luke Shaw to the starting line-up after Sunday’s opening 1-0 win over the Croats.
There were cheers from the Tartan Army as both sets of players took the knee pre-match. As part of an encouraging Scottish opening, an early attack down the right ended with the much-maligned Stephen O’Donnell supplying a low cross for Adams. His first-time attempt was blocked by John Stones.
Then came the inevitable warning for those in dark blue as Stones rose unchallenged to meet Mason Mount’s corner, his powerful header careering off David Marshall’s left post.
A relentless pace had taken hold of proceedings and showed little sign of relenting on the wet surface. Perhaps that could be understood given this was one of the biggest games in Scottish footballing history.
Gilmour looked unfazed amid the uncompromising midfield tackles as he shadowed Chelsea colleague Mount. Most of Scotland’s advances came down the left, with England looking for quick balls in behind the opposition defence to utilise Wembley’s rain-soaked pitch.
Scotland’s ball retention was significantly better and they controlled more than their fair share of the first 45 minutes. From Tierney’s 30th-minute cross, O’Donnell’s stunning volley was parried by the England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Adams could only head the rebound wide.
The possession-based probing continued in a controlled display which pressed the white shirts back. Adams’ movement and linking was effective, although the Scots needed to replicate their first-half focus and energy after the interval.
England assumed the ascendency and James fired a shot over Marshall’s crossbar on 55 minutes. An increased pressing game helped them become more assertive they sought a breakthrough. The home supporters responded and the roar belied a crowd which was only a quarter of Wembley’s capacity.
Again Scotland responded. Following Andy Robertson’s corner, Dykes struck an instinctive volley which James headed clear almost on his own goal line. Southgate reacted by introducing Jack Grealish for Foden.
It was notable that the English weren’t creating much in the way of clear scoring opportunities by the midway point of the second half. When captain Kane made way for Marcus Rashford, it was the clearest sign yet that the hosts were rattled. Southgate’s plan wasn’t working.
Gilmour trotted off to a chorus of “One Billy Gilmour” as the game entered its closing stages. He could be satisfied with an excellent full international debut but there was still work to be done for his replacement, Stuart Armstrong, and the rest of the Scottish side.
They needed to maintain concentration to see out the game without conceding. Grant Hanley, McTominay and Tierney continued imperious defensive displays, likewise O’Donnell and Robertson on the flanks. If a late winner arrived to properly ignite the party, so much the better.
Hibs forward Kevin Nisbet took over from Adams with five minutes left as tension increased around Wembley. The Tartan Army were making all the noise. A late scramble in the Scottish penalty box did nothing to help the nerves, but the final whistle brough jubilation.
A point made, a point well earned, and a point thoroughly deserved.
England (4-2-3-1): Pickford; James, Stones, Mings, Shaw; Phillips, Rice; Foden (Grealish 63), Mount, Sterling; Kane (Rashford 74).
Scotland (3-4-1-2): Marshall; McTominay, Hanley, Tierney; O’Donnell, Gilmour (Armstrong 76), McGregor, Robertson; McGinn; Dykes, Adams (Nisbet 85).