Wayne Rooney's summer to forget continues for England against Scotland

This contest was approaching its interval when Wayne Rooney's pre-season endured its latest pang of annoyance.

Steven Gerrard's clipped pass over the Scottish rearguard was exquisite and collected on the dart by the striker, who duly rounded Allan McGregor and hooked into the empty net, only for the flash of the South African assistant referee's flag to choke any thought of celebration. Rooney had actually been at least a yard onside.

This has been a summer to forget for the Manchester United striker, a figure disaffected and unsettled at the champions with his instincts so set upon a fresh start. That will be denied him but, if he had hoped to take solace in his football, hamstring and shoulder injuries have blighted his preparations to leave him rusty, with David Moyes's first Premier League game in charge looming large on Saturday.

The 27-year-old had been absent at Sunday's Community Shield, devoid as he was of match fitness, even for a glorified friendly. It seems almost implausible that he will start at Swansea, despite beginning for his country here.

Rooney looked precisely what he is: a player whose mind is as sharp as ever but whose body is still playing catch-up, yearning for the rhythm of regular involvement. There were flashes of frustration at times as he heaved to influence a furious contest in the manner he would expect. That familiar scowl creased his face when a canny sprint to the near post six minutes in culminated in a rather fluffed attempt to convert Leighton Baines's delivery. His neat lay-off for Tom Cleverley midway through the period hinted at quality but there were heavy touches too. The rustiness was to be anticipated and not a cause for blame. It was just odd an international fixture carrying such local significance had become an exercise in fine-tuning.

In the circumstances, Moyes's employment for the night as a pundit on ITV's coverage felt like a coup, even if mentions of an issue he had inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford were kept to a minimum. Sitting between Lee Dixon and Roy Keane, he had reflected pre-match only upon the benefits of his unsettled forward gaining some game time. "I want my boys to play well, everybody likes to see Wayne Rooney playing well," he offered. "He has only played 45 minutes all pre-season, so he needs games. It's pre-season, you've got to get your players fit, so it is a plus that he is getting some playing time." Indeed, his tone was more upbeat at the interval, presumably bolstered as much by his compatriots' stubborn display as he considered Rooney's impact.

His touch was very good," he said. "He set one [chance] up, just before the goal, which was well blocked by Scotland. He has had good moments, some of his movement has been very good. He'll improve with the games." Rooney had been out at training 28 minutes before his team-mates at St George's Park on Monday and lasted 67 minutes here, Roy Hodgson complying with his own pledge to be "careful" with the player but as an exercise and even with the bench awaiting in south Wales, this had to be beneficial.

Hodgson will select the striker for the qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine, unless those untimely injuries flare up again post-transfer deadline, and may now not be able to ignore the man who replaced him, the debutant Rickie Lambert, given his headed reward with virtually his first involvement at this level.

The lower league journeyman provided the evening's dose of romance amid the frenzy. Yet, the 31-year-old's instant impact aside, there were other positives for the home management, all those disconcerting defensive frailties aside.

Among them was the impression made by the next great hope of English football. Jack Wilshere had made his debut in the August friendly against Hungary three years ago but this was only an eighth cap, injuries having nullified his impact under successive England managers in the period since. Yet he already feels integral, a player through whom this team can create and, indeed, evolve. Most of the significant play the hosts created in the first period seemed to stem from Wilshere's busy energy, his little legs pumping to fizz close-range passes to colleagues or dart into space away from his markers. When he ran aground, most usually suffocated by sheer weight of numbers, so did the hosts.

There was promising link-up play with Gerrard, imperious as the deepest lying of the three midfielders, and the Arsenal youngster seemed to coax quality from Cleverley at his side, just as he had against Brazil here earlier in the year. It was the United midfielder's wonderful first-time pass that liberated Theo Walcott for the first English equaliser.

That central trio feels comfortable, a partnership that can grow. They should have Rooney ahead of them against Moldova and Ukraine when England will hope the rustiness will have passed.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dominic Fifield at Wembley Stadium, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14th August 2013 21.59 Europe/London

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