Friday, 11 November 2016

England 3 v Scotland 0 - World Cup 2018 Qualifier

Friday 11th November 2016
World Cup 2018 Qualifier - European Group F
at Wembley Stadium
England (1) 3
Daniel Sturridge 24, Adam Lallana 50, Gary Cahill 61
Scotland (0) 0
Attendance 87,258
England are now unbeaten in 33 consecutive qualifying games, it's an impressive record of eight draws and twenty five wins, since they lost 1-0 against Ukraine, seven years ago. 
But their performances in the final stages of competitions, are nowhere near as good as they ought to be. In fact the Euro 2016 finals in France, were an unmitigated disaster for England, the farcical hiring and firing of Sam Allardyce was a major embarrassment and it was vital that the 'Auld Enemy' were convincingly put to the sword tonight, or the ever present, remarkably loyal and faithful fan base, would have gone into meltdown with the sheer enormity of any sort of further humiliation... well, I know I would have done!
But England can always depend on one thing. And that is: regardless of how bad things get, there is always somebody worse off than themselves. 
Invariably and consistently, that somebody is, more often than not... Scotland.
England were good, but not great tonight, but to be fair they didn't need to be, because though the 'Pinks' were adept at spraying passes across the width of the pitch, they were less than impressive at getting up and down the length of it to any great effect. 
Sure, they created several really useful chances, but while England's substandard defences frailties, were exposed as an area of their game that needs an immediate fix; Scotland's finishing was lamentable and pure slapstick comedy at times.
The oldest football international fixture in  the known universe, was an opportunity for both teams to lift the spirits of their fans at the end of what has been a terrible year for both countries national football teams... and the 3-0 margin of victory certainly gave the host nation's fans a significant lift, as it poured more misery on Caledonian neighbours from a great height. 
"Cheer up Gordon Strachan!" 
The banter (and that is all it was) started on King's Cross station as a troop of cross dressing men, wearing tartan skirts and tight fitting pink bri-nylon shirts...each to their own, live and let live n' all that... mingled among us, near the queue for the Underground.
I thought Daffyd Thomas, Matt Lucas' 'Little Britain' character was supposed to be Welsh, but it would appear that his fashion sense has a cult following north of the border too.
"I hope you've got your box of tissues for later" winked one of them, "Well, it's going to be fun gubbing you lot again, but I don't reckon I'll be excited enough to have a wank about it!" I replied.
He burst into laughter and I added: "So if you could now get all of the Wembley 1967 bollocks out of the way, I'll bid you farewell and good luck, because you're going to need it!" 
Surely to God, nobody would ever wear a half and half England/Scotland scarf
Handshakes and a cheery truce all around ensued, while I chuckled to myself about how civilised society has become, compared to days gone by, when I'd previously encountered international rivalry between our two proud nations head on.
Prior to kick off, a respectfully observed tribute for Armistice day took place and to their immense credit, despite not getting approval from FIFA to do it, both teams displayed poppy emblems.
I don't want to get on my soapbox about the wearing of these badges and symbols of  respect, because it should always be a matter of personal choice, but it is thoroughly misguided to claim that the poppy is a political symbol and when all is said and done, November 11th is a significant date in the calendar for many English and Scottish people alike.
Half and half England/Scotland scarf wearer,. there's always one!
If you conscientiously do not wear a poppy, or want to make the occasion about your own blinkered agenda, by wearing a white or black poppy, then that's up to you, but please bump your gums together, shut up and allow those of us who feel that it is100% the right thing to do, to go about our business sans any politicising and PC theorising about an annual tradition that we wish to respect.
Of course, while the England and Scotland fans joined together to remember those who gave all, it is still traditional to boo each others national anthems and cuss one another loudly and very passionately for the next ninety minutes too. 
That is not racist, or xenophobic or even nationalistic... it's mutually understood! 
And I doubt if anybody on either side of the divide would have it any other way, when football transcends all politics and religion on nights like this.
I have Scottish relatives, but thankfully there are no blood ties with them on my side of the family and, of course, I have links with the Heart of Midlothian Football club that go back a loooong way; but I am extremely proud to be a Sassenach and genuinely grateful that Gareth Southgate's side, though having obvious limitations, were nowhere near rough enough around the edges to lose against Strachan's manky shower.
Darren Fletcher had been guilty of a woeful miss inside the opening few minutes, with a shot that had less power behind it than Nicola Sturgeon actually has in either the Scottish National Assembly or Westminster.
Had that gone in then we might've had a different kind of game to look forward to. But Scotland seemed almost content to slip into a defeatist mindset and accept their inevitable demise and second bestness.
Raheem Sterling won the ball in midfield and set off on a dribbling run, his goal bound strike rebounded off of a defender which released Kyle Walker on the right hand side of the area, who crashed a cross cum cross towards Craig Gordon's goal, that Daniel Sturridge stooped to meet with a glancing header and England were ahead.
The Scots almost pulled level but Grant Hanley misdirected a free header well off target.
Wayne Rooney made a rare slip and gave the ball away to Leigh Griffiths, but with Robert Snodgrass well placed to receive the ball in front of Joe Hart's goal, Griffiths went for glory and toe punted a feeble effort straight at the dandruff free England keeper, who looked head and shoulders better in ability than any of those tasked with the job of finding the back of his net.
There was still time for Fletcher to miss another sitter before the break as it became more and more apparent that the visitors were not going to score tonight, if this game went on  past midnight.
HT: England 1 v Scotland 0
Lee Wallace set up James Forrest for the first goal scoring opportunity of the second half, but once again Gordon Strachan was left questioning who had left his sides shooting boots on the team coach, while Joe Hart got up to have a walk to stretch his legs, because he'd finished the Sudoku puzzle book he'd brought along with him and his deck chair wasn't very comfortable.
However England still looked vulnerable at the back and you can't imagine that Spain will be even half as generous as Scotland's profligate attackers were tonight, when they roll up at Wembley Stadium for a friendly on Tuesday night.
The 'Tartan Army' were on the march, towards Wembley Park station, just five minutes into the second half, when Sturridge played the ball to Sterling to his left and he kept the ball moving to Danny Rose on the overlap, who delivered a great cross for Adam Lallana to turn past Gordon with a well placed header.
More gaps appeared in the away supporters section of the stadium just after the hour mark, when Wayne Rooney's corner was met by Gary Cahill who netted England's third headed goal of the night.
By all accounts, the Samaritans switchboard in Edinburgh crashed under the volume of calls and the Empire Way Convenience Store put a notice in their window: 'Sorry we have sold out of tissues'.
England played out the remainder of the game, which was well beyond Scotland's reach by now, in the manner of a sadistic dad. playing 'keep ball' against his six year old son on Great Yarmouth beach.
On a night when Wayne Rooney, showing that his international career is far from over and Raheem Sterling both put in a shift to quieten their most harsh of critics who have been rubbishing them both in the run up to this prestige fixture, while Scotland's fans were left to lament that not only had they been beaten by a team of a far higher calibre, they had also effectively contributed to their own downfall, with a paucity of quality in front of Joe Hart's goal.
After four games in charge of the national team in an interim and caretaker capacity, it would seem that Gareth Southgate has now all but instilled himself as the new England manager. Personally I feel that this would be a positive thing. Southgate has a vast knowledge of the internal workings of the FA on a number of levels and has conducted himself very well since stepping into the role since the Sam Allardyce entrapment/greed* debacle became public knowledge.
If 'Big Sam' still feels that he was the victim in some kind of elaborate sting, then that says more about the money motivated arrogance and ego of the man, than the dubious intentions of the whistle blowers who he naively gave the ammunition to expose and dethrone him on a plate.
The game finished three nil to the hosts and you could almost (but not quite) feel sorry for the the Scottish fans who could still find enough patriotism flowing through their veins, to belt out one last defiant rendition of their anthem 'Flower of Scotland' (a song about a thistle, which is actually a weed) before they headed back home into their own private football wilderness.
The Scotland players I remember from my formative years: Dave Mackay, Archie Gemmill, Graeme Souness, Danny McGrain, Joe Jordan and John Greig, had fight and commitment to their nation's cause and used to be worthy and sometimes better opposition for the English, but their current crop of 'international standard' players deserve to be made to go out in public wearing those daft pink shirts to make a sorry laughing stock of  themselves.
Beating Scotland is always fun, but it took the gloss off of the final score slightly, that it was virtually impossible for England to lose against a side who lacked any kind of cutting edge whatsoever.
FT: England 3 v Scotland 0