KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: England v Scotland is the oldest international fixture of them all with a history of biblical proportions from the creation through chapters featuring the greatest players of both countries from the Scotland’s Wee Blue Devils to England’s World Cup winners until more recent, less descriptive, decades.
Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge wrote his own verse into that great football book by putting England ahead after 23 minutes of the Group E World Cup qualifier with a finely-judged near-post glancing header. Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill followed through by extending the lead to an ultimately conclusive 3-0 within the first 15 minutes of the second half.
England did not play well and rode their luck at times but they had more than enough about them to win and hence lead the group with no goals yet conceded – thanks, significantly, to ineffectual Scots’ finishing.
The run-up to their first competitive clash of the century had been clouded by the poppy issue and ongoing speculation about whether Gareth Southgate would become permanent England manager – or, as permanent as England managers can expect to be.
In all the circumstances this was never expected to be a classic and England were obvious favourites through a higher class of player. But derbies are unpredictable affairs and, indeed, it was Scotland who made the sharper, busier start.
England heeded the lesson, began to put their game together and might even have been awarded a penalty when leftback Lee Wallace fell all over Raheem Sterling.
Not that it mattered too much. Ten minutes later Sturridge punished Scotland’s failure to clear their lines with his eighth goal for his country from Kyle Walker’s high-paced right-wing cross. This was the only moment of class in the first half.
Scotland responded resiliently enough but in a game guaranteed to produce few chances Grant Hanley was desperately at fault when the advancing central defender put a ‘free’ header high over Joe Hart’s crossbar after a right-wing corner.
After the interval Scotland had two gaping opportunities to equalise but first James Forrest pulled a shot wide of Hart’s left-hand post then Robert Snodgrass saw a shot deflected wide off John Stones’s trailing leg.
Punishment was immediate. England, despite not clicking as a team, ran down to the other end and Lallana produced a second England – and Liverpool – goal by heading home a Danny Rose cross.
Cahill collected a yellow card which will keep him out of the next tie, against Lithuania, but gained happy consolation by heading home England’s third goal from captain Wayne Rooney’s left-wing corner.
England’s celebratory fans waved their white flag-bibs at the Scots at the other end of Wembley, suggesting the Tartan Army had surrendered.
The hosts played keep-ball throughout the closing 10 minutes as the fans rapidly emptied the stadium with time to spare.
Victory for England was also a pending job offer for Southgate – whatever the outcome of next week’s friendly against Spain – but perhaps the end of the line for opposite number Gordon Strachan.
If so, he could count himself unfortunate on the strength of this game: it was not Strachan, after all, who missed those crucial chances just after half-time.
England: Hart – Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose – Henderson, Dier – Lallana, Rooney, Sterling – Sturridge (Vardy 73).
Scotland: Gordon – Anya, Hanley, Berra, Wallace – Brown, Fletcher – Snodgrass (Ritchie 81), Morrison (McArthur 65), Forrest – Griffiths.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey). Attendance: 87,258.