Was Scotland’s 1-3 defeat by the English just a temporary blip, or has the recent revival of Gordon Strachan’s men just flattered to deceive? We asked Nigel Clarke, the wise old man of Fleet Street, to give his opinion
IN the end, it wasn’t even close, and never a real test for England.
The Scots let themselves down, and Gordon Strachan will be bitterly disappointed with the result and, more importantly, with the level of their performance.
Scots supporters had plenty to say for themselves after beating the Republic of Ireland in a Euro qualifier last Friday. Some even predicted they would beat England 5-1.
But, then, they so often permit their passion to run riot, and the reserve team Roy Hodgson put out was more than capable enough of winning a match in which the Scots had one real shot on target.
They scored from it and briefly flickered into a revival, but in the end a lack of quality and class showed how wide the gulf was between the two teams.
Last week, the Irish stood off Scotland and let them have the ball. No surprise, then, that the home side had enough of it to win the game.
That did not happen against England, who denied them possession and time on the ball, while the Scots never had anybody willing to run on beyond their two attackers.
No punch, no penetration. Scots fans who have revered this fixture for so many years would have been crying out for someone who could finish.
Suddenly, images of Denis Law and Kenny Dalglish came into vision, plus a hard man like Graeme Souness who would have bossed midfield.
And what about Jim Baxter, who taunted England at Wembley by sitting on the ball, and then playing keepy uppy with it?
Great memories and great moments were all the Scots could look back last night.
Strachan will need no reminding that goals win games, and Scotland had nobody who could provide a cutting edge. The support was there for them, and a chance to make a name for themselves and prove the victory over the Irish was a clear sign of renaissance.
England snuffed them out effectively, and you were left wondering what would have happened if Hodgson had fielded his strongest line-up.
It was sad in a way to see how a once great nation has fallen behind in world and European football. You can count on the fingers of one hand, for instance, the number of Scots who play in the Barclays Premier League.
And the fact they recently lost narrowly to world champions Germany only goes to illustrate that the great powers of European football are in decline, and with it the international game.
Standards are dropping because of the influence of the Premier League, where every match is an occasion, where great stars perform regularly each week.
Hodgson can now hibernate until his side play again next March, boosted by a performance that was so effective and effortlessly efficient.
They didn’t really have to be anything else. They took their goals well with some fine individual skills, and Wayne Rooney gets ever closer to Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record.
This match was looked on as a real examination for England. It wasn’t. It was a comfortable win on a bad night for the tartan hordes, who believed they were a force again .
Strachan will know more than anybody that he has no front man to get even close to the kind of dynamic finishing that made Law, Dalglish and Joe Jordan such household names.
It was a bitter night for everyone in Scotland. A few dreams were destroyed, but then reality will always kick in at some point.
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Jeff Holmes Pix