It probably should not be a shock that new chapters in the extensive back catalogue of glorious Scottish sporting failures are still being written in 2017. How familiar this was; how painfully familiar.
Cold analysis should surround Scotland’s concession of two horrendous goals, the kind that undermine international campaigns and cost managers their job. The goals scored by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harry Kane were horribly reminiscent of the type Scotland have continually shipped in recent times. Another blunt truth is that a point against England probably is not going to be much use in this World Cup quest, the Scots having been trounced in Slovakia and failed to beat Lithuania at home. They need so much more, plus favours, between now and the campaign’s conclusion.
Nonetheless, offering such comment feels harsh. In two glorious moments, Hampden rejoiced in a manner once customary but not witnessed since the win over France in 2006. Before old failings returned, Scotland dared to dream of a first victory over England here since 1985.
“That was the one, at 60 years old, that could have been the best result of my footballing career,” said Gordon Strachan. “You can’t question the personality or character of those players. That was beyond the call of duty at times. They pushed themselves to another level.” He said the draw had felt like a defeat.
Strachan had followed his instinct that a three-man defence was the most viable means to halt a powerful England front four. That backline – of Christophe Berra, Charlie Mulgrew and Kieran Tierney – contained only left-footed players. The Scotland starting XI featured seven.
Good news for the future surrounds the fact that Tierney, a full-back at Celtic, is one of the finest Scottish prospects to emerge in years – if “prospect” is still applicable, that is. He endorsed his rising status with an excellent display.
If it was understandable for Strachan not to express hope that his team could make a mockery 5-1 odds on the grounds of what talent was at his disposal, harping back to the 3-0 loss at Wembley in November made little sense. “The performance that night gave us a lot to be optimistic about,” said Strachan in his programme notes. “We were the better team for large periods of the match.”
If the media indulged in this kind of gross exaggeration as routine, managers like Strachan would have plenty to say about it. The reality in London was that Scotland were not efficient either in defence or attack, leading to a match that was over with half an hour to play. England barely emerged from first gear during their canter to victory.
A further glance back to Strachan’s pre-match comments was necessary within three minutes. “That ‘get intae them’ theory of playing football is gone,” insisted the manager. “They are well in control of their emotions.”
Strachan’s captain, Scott Brown, was not on message. A reckless tackle on Dele Alli with only 150 seconds played earned the midfielder a booking. This was an archetypal case of playing to the gallery by an individual who has never been famed for fine tackling. Brown was later woefully lame as Oxlade-Chamberlain breezed past him en route to opening the scoring.
And yet, Brown’s rush of blood aside, so much of Scotland’s opening was impressive. They pressed and harried their visitors to the point where England were rattled for the first 15 minutes. The only problem was that Scottish energy was not reflected in chances created. An attempt by Lee Griffiths from 18 yards, which did not trouble Joe Hart, was the sum of Scotland’s early play.
Scotland’s problems soon resonated. Robert Snodgrass was toiling badly, with Stuart Armstrong failing to impose himself on proceedings and James Morrison virtually invisible. Griffiths was a chronically isolated figure in attack for the remainder of the first half, during which Kane should have afforded England an unassailable advantage.
Perhaps having sensed England’s fragility, Scotland roused the home crowd by starting the second period with considerably more composure and confidence than they had ended the first. Griffiths later emphasised that with two free-kicks worthy of the highest praise; he was already running away in celebration before both hit the net.
Strachan’s emotion was soon different. He slammed a water bottle to the ground in disgust as Kane finished at the back post. A football nation, for once, knew precisely how he felt. “I’m too tired to think about the future,” Strachan said. “I just want to get home.”
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