Last week England were trawling through mud and water at the National Marine Commando Centre on a team bonding session. This evening, it felt as if some were still stuck in the mud. England were on for a comfortable win, until a freak last period, but it should have never been able to happen.
Scotland started off the game with energy and passion. They hunted down the England players in packs and the so-called Lions look rattled. England were sloppy on the ball, some even off the pace. The tempo was slow and again, England could not break Scotland down.
This game was a carbon copy of the Euros. Has Southgate learned nothing? Perhaps he should have spent more time on breaking down opponents rather than running around in camouflaged clothing in Devon. Slow tempo football against a team that puts every man behind the ball does not work. It was so easy for Tierney who had Rashford in his back pocket, who was anonymous for the whole game. Where was the energetic runs from Walker? Where was the dynamism that Alli usually exudes? This England team was unrecognisable, they played as if they had never met before. Passes went astray and shots were miscued.
This England team is filled with goalscoring talent – so where were the chances? England were limited to half chances that ballooned over the bar. England controlled the game, they dominated the possession, but when will we learn that possession does not win you football matches? The England team is awash with intuitive, intelligent players. They have plenty of pace, but they never used it. Nobody made inventive runs and nobody took on the Scotland defence.
England looked sloppy after three weeks of not playing football, but Scotland were energetic, their work-ethic was a pleasure to watch. It was particularly perplexing why Southgate started with two holding midfielders and a back four, when Scotland only had Leigh Griffiths up front. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Griffiths did well to hold up the ball and bring other players into the game. For a man who was up on his own, it was too easy for Griffiths.
When England tried to go forward, they came straight back. England were lacking a player to take the game by the scruff of the neck. They were lacking a leader. Kane – for most of the game – was more of a passenger than a captain. When Chamberlain came on, things changed. He injected much-needed pace and made an instant impact when he used his silky feet to dance his way into the penalty area, and fire towards goal. A weak Craig Gordon could only flap at the ball as it flew into the back of the net. Gordon had been a headless chicken all game, and was nearly caught out earlier on by his trigger-happy approach to goalkeeping, but luckily for Scotland it was cleared off the line.
Chamberlain was hungry for more, he powered past Scott Brown and whipped in a cross towards Adam Lallana who was stood in fields of space, it was put onto a plate, but somehow, Lallana headed it aimlessly over the bar. For a player of his stature, this was simply not good enough.
As cramp spread across the Scotland team, England decided to hold onto their 1-0 lead, and with five minutes to go, three points were a certainty. That was before a careless challenge was made on Griffiths which was a gift for a man who is always dangerous on set pieces. He whipped the ball into the bottom left corner, which flew over the stationary wall and under the hapless Joe Hart.
Only a minute later, the same thing happened again. A careless challenge, in the same area. What were England thinking? Why are England unable to manage games? This time Griffiths opted for the left corner, but the result was the same. Scotland were winning, but how? Questions were asked of Joe Hart, who could and should have done better on both free-kicks.
England did snatch a point, however, after a Dier free-kick was not cleared. The parry from Craig Gordon in goal came to Sterling who was out wide on the right wing. He floated the ball to the far post, and Kane emerged in front of all three Scottish defenders whose efforts to stop him were insipid. He stuck out a leg, and on the volley, cannoned the ball into the back of the net. Crisis averted.
Somehow England only just snatched a point in the final minutes after only moments earlier strolling to an easy victory. But that is typical of England. Same old, same old.
Scotland: Gordon 4, Tierney 7, Berra 6, Mulgrew 6, Robertson 6, Brown 8, Morrison 7, Anya 6, Armstrong 6, Snodgrass 5, Griffiths 9
Subs used: McArthur 6, Fraser 6, Martin 5
England: Hart 4, Walker 6, Cahill 6, Smalling 6, Bertrand 6, Dier 6, Livermore 6, Lallana 7, Alli 5, Rashford 4, Kane 7
Subs used: Chamberlain 9, Sterling 8
Man of the Match – Leigh Griffiths