Alan Partridge would describe this as a ruddy good football match. Thankfully for both you (the reader) and I (me), I’m not Alan Partridge, so I will have to spend the next 5 paragraphs describing this match without recourse to the word ‘ruddy’. Partridge aside, this was a bloody good football match and arguably the most entertaining friendly England have played in a long time. Much of the match was defined less by England than by their Scottish opponents who gave a seriously pugilistic account of themselves here at Wembley. In fact, I’d written a long and elegiac match report about just how great Scotland were.
Then Rickie Lambert went all Roy of the Rovers on me.
Rickie Lambert scored his first goal, a powerfully directed header, for England yesterday with his first touch after coming on as a second half-substitute for Wayne Rooney. Rickie Lambert is 31 and not long ago had a job screwing lids on the top of jars of beetroot.
“I couldn’t get a club anywhere, I was training at Macclesfield without a contract and I didn’t have any money so I had to had to earn some by (working in) a factory. It was a beetroot factory. I don’t even like beetroot!” – Lambert
Now he is winning matches for England. Stories like Lambert’s are why football is the most popular sport in the world. Now before I get even more sentimental lets talk about Scotland, a country which is pretty difficult to get sentimental about unless you are noted ham actor and fascist, Mel ‘FREEEEEDOM’ Gibson.
International friendlies are usually an exercise in pointless corporate bullshit and incredibly boring football. The clear animosity felt by Scotland and their fans towards the English lifted this encounter into a far less dismal realm.
Manager Gordon Strachan who on the night looked like a cross between Boris Becker’s nan, a glazed ham and a giant walking wasp sting, has reinvigorated Scotland since he took the team over in January and this progression was clearly shown against England. Captain Scott Brown was a study in ferocity, bald and snapping like a turbo-charged turtle alongside his more cultured midfield partner James Morrison. Both were particularly dynamic and assertive in the opening half-hour, when Scotland had their best period in the game.
Joe Hart, clad in an embarrassing kit that made him look like an irradiated banana, was almost entirely at fault for Scotland’s first goal. It has to be worrying for both England and Manchester City that high-profile mistakes are becoming increasingly common for Hart. The aforementioned Morrison received a clearance from a Scottish corner and with Theo Walcott failing to even flail in the way of him, took a fairly straightforward shot from the edge of the box, straight in the direction of Hart who had to fuck up spectacularly in order to allow the ball past him and into the net. Which is exactly what he did.
The 20,000 Scots in Wembley duly went completely batshit, fuelled not only by the joy of taking the lead against the hated English but by an afternoon well spent doing this to Trafalgar Square:
Furthermore those 20,000 Jocks present yesterday managed to unequivocally shut that shite brass band up for most of the match – I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of all right thinking English football fans everywhere for this unassuming service.
England started poorly and looked toothless, unable to make use of some intelligent running from Theo Walcott or Jack Wilshere’s ability to turn and beat players in tight spaces. Instead they relied on the rapidly calcifying Steven Gerrard to spray and wedge pointless sideways passes to Kyle Walker or Leighton Baines in areas where neither was able to threaten Scotland.
Gerrard might have his uses as a leader and a deliverer of lavish set-pieces but the fact he was made to look so unauthoritative by Scotland’s midfield may give Roy Hodgson doubts about whether Gerrard ought to automatically start for England should they qualify for next year’s World Cup.
England’s Lazarus act began in the 26th minute when a neat exchange between Rooney and Tom Cleverley fashioned a first proper chance for the home side. Moments later it was Cleverley’s supple pass that put Walcott in behind Steven Whittaker and despite a dodgy succession of touches, the Arsenal forward was able to finish smartly past McGregor.
England’s leveler was an injunction that ignited Rooney’s interest in the game, after he spent most of the opening half hour looking as angry as an old man who’s golfing holiday had been interrupted by his teenage daughter’s unplanned pregnancy. A clever interchange with Welbeck led to a shot that almost crept past McGregor, and a dubious offside decision late in the first half prevented him from scoring his 9th goal in his last 10 England appearances.
Kenny Miller’s turn and surging dispatchment gave Scotland the lead and hope of a profound victory in the second half; a goal notable for the dummy Miller sold Gary Cahill, a dummy that the Chelsea centre-half bought so thoroughly that he probably didn’t even ask for a receipt.
England were roused by this affront, like some great cantankerous sea beast brushed by a school of fish. The response was swift – Welbeck heading a classy Gerrard free kick into the net within five minutes of Miller scoring. England continued to clank through the gears, threatened occasionally by the running of Naismith and Miller, until Lambert got his improbable debut goal twenty minutes before the end to give England a tenuous win.
Promising for the Gordon Stachan’s men; Roy Hodgson will be hoping that his side can improve before the crucial World Cup qualifiers they face before the end of the year.