England headers and shoulders above Scotland at Wembley

Gareth Southgate may have rubber-stamped full-time appointment while pressure grows on Gordon Strachan

England interim manager Gareth Southgate celebrates after Gary Cahill scored their third goal in the World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Imagesvia Reuters/Livepic

England interim manager Gareth Southgate celebrates after Gary Cahill scored their third goal in the World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Imagesvia Reuters/Livepic

 

England 3 Scotland 0

For Gareth Southgate, it was the kind of result that should make everything official and dissuade the Football Association’s headhunters from expanding their search for a full-time manager. England had won convincingly, courtesy of three headed goals, and it is fairly inconceivable now to think Southgate will not be ushered in as the permanent manager.

There is plenty of work to be done and, however satisfying the result was for England, it did not entirely mask their shortcomings. Scotland matched their opponents for long spells and if this proves to be the match that ends Gordon Strachan’s tenure he will probably always look back on their opportunities, at 1-0, to score the goal that would have provided a test of England’s nerve.

In the end England won with something to spare, taking a first-half lead through Daniel Sturridge and then adding further goals via Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill. Southgate will be inheriting a side who have not lost a qualifying match since 2009, a run stretching back 33 games, and though that record can feel like a deception sometimes there was the unmistakeable air here of a team showing the first real signs of recovery.

England might need a few more results of this nature before they are forgiven for the ordeal of Euro 2016. Yet Wembley did, once again, feel like a relatively happy place once England had the measure of their opponents.

Scotland may have arrived at Wembley with their manager in danger of being sent to the guillotine but the team in garish pink and black – an away strip that should be put in a skip and never seen again – can never be accused of half-hearted effort when it comes to this fixture.

Strachan’s men were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and played with a spirit of togetherness that made them awkward opponents for a team with England’s shortcomings. Scott Brown played as though utterly determined to justify his selection on his one-off night out of international retirement. Darren Fletcher, his partner in central midfield, was just as combative and, to give Strachan his due, Scotland could be forgiven for thinking the general flow of the match was not reflected in the fact they were behind at half-time and two goals adrift five minutes into the second half.

At one point a moment of carelessness from Wayne Rooney inside his own half opened up a chance for Leigh Griffiths to advance and take aim at Joe Hart’s goal. Fletcher could be seen dispossessing Lallana and, once again, England put themselves at risk of self-inflicted damage. John Stones had some awkward moments and Scotland will regret those wasted opportunities for James Forrest and Robert Snodgrass when both players, in quick succession, had the chance to equalise.

Ultimately, though, this was a Scotland team with three-quarters of their defence made up of players from a league that used to be known in England as the old Second Division. Midway through the first half, Raheem Sterling left fly from 25 yards and when the ball ricocheted to Kyle Walker it was the first time an England player had found space in the opposition penalty area. Walker’s cross was at an awkward height for Sturridge but the striker improvised brilliantly and his stooping, instinctive header was directed expertly past Craig Gordon.

England had looked disjointed in the opening stages and might have been expected to have started imposing themselves more effectively after going ahead. Instead, they continued to lack real cohesion, lacking width and penetration. More than anything, they looked short of creativity and it was a measure, perhaps, of their uncertainty that before half-time Danny Rose could be seen trying to exaggerate a feather’s touch from Snodgrass to win a penalty.

One certainty is that England will have to take better care of the ball if they are to trouble Spain in Tuesday’s friendly. Forrest turned his shot narrowly wide when he had the chance to equalise and, though it was a fine block from Stones, Snodgrass will reflect he ought to have done better from a similar position.

Those misses were decisive because it was in the next attack that Sterling played the ball to the overlapping Rose and Scotland’s vulnerabilities in defence were exposed again. Lallana had darted into the penalty area and it was another improvisational header from a player hardly renowned for his aerial ability.

Scotland certainly cannot expect to get away with defending this obligingly. They were susceptible to routine crosses and, though they toiled away right to the finish, the other truth is they did not have the refinement in attack to leave the impression they were capable of saving themselves.

Instead their night became an exercise in damage limitation after the 61st-minute corner, swung over by Rooney, that resulted in Cahill heading in the third goal, and an already distressing match for the Scots might have become even more of an ordeal had Sterling not been guilty of an extraordinary open-goal miss. To say England had excelled would be an exaggeration but the reality is they did not have to play above themselves.

Rose got away with a scything challenge on Snodgrass that merited, at the very least, a yellow card but otherwise it was a fairly non-aggressive match given the history of this fixture and it was almost a surprise England did not add any more goals.

(Guardian service)

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