Rooney rises to Celtic challenge and inspires win over Auld Enemy
England captain Wayne Rooney had never scored in eight previous attempts against a British Isles side, before bagging a brace to bring him closer to Bobby Charlton’s goal record in Glasgow.
Roy Hodgson’s side, 7/2 with Coral to win all their remaining Euro 2016 qualifiers, checked the momentum of their Auld Enemy, as Scotland followed up a blood and thunder competitive clash against the Republic of Ireland with defeat.
As billed, there was nothing ‘friendly’ about this end of calendar year international challenge, but the oldest fixture of its kind in football retains the surprising stat of never producing a red card.
Hostility greeted England’s emergence from the Celtic Park tunnel, as the Tartan Army jeered and booed the visiting national anthem and every touch made by them in this match. Although this intensity was retained off the field, Gordon Strachan’s side failed to establish a similar tempo to the win over Ireland in their play here.
It took a goal, crafted by Arsenal guile in Jack Wilshere’s lovely, lofted diagonal ball, and opportunism from Gunners clubmate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who broke into the box and pop up between two Scotland defenders, to silence home supporters.
Runs in the channels were a tactic employed to good effect by Hodgson’s charges in the second half of the 3-1 qualifying win over Slovenia, and it worked again half an hour into this ‘Battle of Britain’.
Key Scotland performers Ikechi Anya and Shaun Maloney were contained by emerging England international full backs Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, but both managers made changes at the break.
Stewart Downing, recalled after more than two years in the wilderness, was notably withdrawn by Hodgson for Adam Lallana during half time, as once again club form failed to transfer over to his country. Perhaps the Three Lions boss was recognising it was a mistake to bring him back into the fold in hauling him off.
Craig Gordon’s first job in the Scotland goal, after coming on following a four-year absence, was to pick the ball out of the net, however. Charlie Mulgrew, another who impressed against Ireland, conceded a cheap early free kick, which ricocheted around the home box before Rooney nodded in.
That doubled England’s lead, although Three Lions keeper Fraser Forster, back on his old stomping ground, had to tip a Russell Martin header over before the customary flurry of further substitutions.
Seven minutes from time, Scotland struck back through Hull City’s talented youngster Andrew Robertson, who redeemed himself after being at fault for the second goal. Coming in off the flank, up from left back, he interchanged with substitute and debutant Johnny Russell to fire low past Forster and sooth some Scottish pride.
Rooney had the last word, however, restoring England’s two-goal cushion when tapping in from a Lallana cutback to end an incisive right wing move. This talisman took his seasonal international tally to a perfect six in six, and sits just three behind legend Charlton on the all-time list now.
Should Rooney’s rich vein of form continue, then he will be leading Three Lions marksman long before the Euro 2016 finals, which England are now virtually certain to be at with a massively odds-on price of 1/100 for qualification.
Perhaps the only disappointment from Hodgson was he did not get Burundi-born striker Saido Berahino on for his senior debut. Rickie Lambert instead came off the bench, but did play a part in the build-up to the Three Lions’ third goal.
Defeat by England should not dampen the Tartan Army or Strachan’s spirits, though. Like the narrow loss to reigning world champions Germany that kicked off their campaign, there are positives to take and overall progress under the former Celtic boss is obvious.
Scotland have been good value in the away draw to Poland and home victory over Ireland. Their qualifying group is certainly a tougher road to traverse than the Three Lions have en route to Euro 2016, but they are better for it, and odds of 11/10 say the Scots will be at the France finals.