Sadly, another anniversary occasion fell flat at Hampden at the hands of the noisy neighbours. England have lost more games at Hampden than anywhere else. But they were never really in any danger of losing for a 16th time here. Scotland didn’t have to go anywhere to get battered. This was a sore one and they were forced to suffer in their own backyard, as they did in 1973 on the occasion of the SFA’s 100th anniversary. Mercifully, this was not on the scale of that 5-0 defeat – but for a time in the opening half when there were fears it might reach that as Scotland struggled to cope with their classy visitors, who had not even fielded their strongest side.
This match was to mark 150 years and Scotland wore shirts based on those worn at the first match v England in 1872. Sadly, the hosts were unstitched in just three first-half minutes. Phil Foden put England on their way after 32 minutes and then Jude Bellingham, the undoubted star of the show, completely punctured the atmosphere with a straightforward second after taking advantage of a horrible mistake by Andy Robertson.
Scotland staged a second-half recovery to offer some hope, with England substitute Harry Maguire putting through his goal after 67 minutes. Their other Harry – skipper Kane – scored at the right end with nine minutes left to restore England’s two goal lead, which was, in truth, an accurate representation of the evening.
Little went right for Scotland. Norway narrowly overcame Georgia 2-1 in Oslo to extinguish the slim hope that Scotland might at least have something to celebrate after securing a Euro 2024 place. That now remains a live issue. As manager Steve Clarke as been at pains to point out, nothing can be taken for granted. This helped make his case.
The Scotland manager might have to put that call into Harvey Barnes after all. Maybe Clarke had a quiet word in Gareth Southgate’s ear afterwards and asked if he had any others going spare. It was the SFA’s party after all and England turned up bearing no gifts although they did put Maguire on at half-time. That news got the loudest cheer of the night and the Manchester United defender duly delivered with the own goal that briefly got Scotland back into the match. The tannoy announcer delivered the identity of Scotland's scorer with extra relish.
John McGinn released Robertson down the right and although out of position, the full back was able to deliver a cross that the hapless Maguire succeeded only in diverting past Aaron Ramsdale. Hampden exploded. Goals from home greats such as Denis Law have received less acclaim.
While it was generous from England, Scotland had already provided their neighbours with two presents. Sadly on such a significant occasion, it was the skipper, the one Scottish player who might actually stand a chance of getting in this England side, who was most at fault as the visitors established a two-goal lead and completely killed the atmosphere.
Robertson has nothing to prove and less to apologise for. But this will have hurt him back in the place where he used to sell match programmes in his Queen’s Park days. The bumper programme produced by the SFA for this anniversary clash won’t now be as cherished as it ought to be, that’s for sure.
The extraordinary Bellingham was at the heart of both goals and provided Scotland fans with a glimpse of a true generational talent. Perhaps Ben Doak can become that in time. But great hopes such as Billy Gilmour, replaced just before the hour mark by Ryan Christie, had a tougher time of it here.
Even seasoned international players were caught out. Bellingham, who only recently turned 20, threaded a ball through to Marcus Rashford in the build-up to the opener but Robertson looked slightly slow to read the situation. Rashford was allowed to collect and the Manchester United forward fed Kyle Walker, whose punchy cross was artfully clipped in by Foden from close range.
Three minutes later Bellingham was at it again. He fed Foden before moving inwards in anticipation of something falling his way. Not that he or indeed anyone could have imagined what would happen next. Robertson looked to have the ball under control after it landed at his feet following a deflection, but the skipper looked to be caught in two minds and merely succeeded in stabbing the ball towards Bellingham, who was around 12 yards out. The Real Madrid player was not going to make any mistake from there.
While this was a sobering evening for Scotland, it was not a disastrous one. No qualifying points were on offer. None, certainly, were subtracted. Clarke’s side remain top of Group A on 15 points. Not even FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who watched from the South Stand, has devised a system where a team loses qualifying points for being beaten in a friendly.
But it was still not the way Scotland wanted to prepare for next month’s resumption of competitive activity against Spain of all teams. And after beating Georgia 2-1, Norway are coming up the tracks behind them. There’s still work for Scotland to do and as this proved, they are far from the finished article. But then tell Clarke something he doesn’t know.
Little came off for Scotland but they did exhibit some life in the run-up to Maguire’s own goal, and for a spell after it when it looked as if a comeback to ring through the ages might be on. McGinn flashed a header over from Robertson’s cross with 20 minutes left. But with nine minutes left, and with England having wrestled back some control, it was time for Kane to belatedly put his mark of quality on the evening.
Who else but Bellingham provided the assist? The No 10 wriggled with menace outside the Scotland penalty area before releasing his skipper, who lost Robertson at the back post. Kane does not miss from there.