Match 1 is against the Auld Enemy, ranked 11 in the world (we are currently at 18). Not wanting to make it any easier for our young squad, the match was at Wembley which was filled to capacity. Although that might have played well to us because our supporters didn’t have to travel far, only 400 or so miles down the M6, or hop the Avanti or Overground to make it in time.
We put out a strong squad and I went with an AMC, hoping that Christie would distract the defense to allow more goal scoring opportunities and trusting the formation to frustrate any attacks. Even though Paterson was one of our leading scorers in Qualifying I went with Fraser who seems better at set pieces and trusted that his pace and strength would be better against England’s left wing. I also started Karlan Grant to show England what they are missing out on.
The match started with a bang as Grant repaid my faith when Leigh Griffiths stole the ball from Jadon Sancho after he was attempting a counter on a corner, and laid it off for Grant who scored a close effort that went in off the post. 1-0 Scotland! I thought we could hang on until the half but Sancho atoned for his mistake and scored the equalizer in injury time. We went in 1-1 at the half.
The second half started and each side struggled to create chances. I pulled an underperforming McTominay for McGregor at 57 minutes, hoping his DLP ability would still allow us to maintain our shape but be more aggressive offensively. Grant was subbed off 6 minutes later for McBurnie to provide a different dynamic, hoping McBurnie’s strength could help knock through some balls for others as well as score some himself. Finally, six minutes after that I put Kieran Tierney at WBR for Ryan Fraser, who was just knackered. Tierney's pace was preferable to Paterson.
While we were dominating possession we were having challenges breaking down England’s stout defense, with DMC Declan Rice providing a fifth defender at times and completely frustrating Christie. Southgate was exposing the flaw in our setup: we are not designed to break down compact defending teams but rather control possession, be stout defensively, and take good chances.
Heading into injury time it looked like a draw was in the cards (which is great for our prospects) when in the 92nd minute McGinn gathered a pass from McGregor and played a through ball to an onside Leigh Griffiths. Griffiths beat Dean Henderson at the right post and it was 2-1 Scotland!. Cheering erupted and intensified 2 minutes later when the whistle blew and Scotland had sent England homeward to think again.
McGinn was POM for his assist and battling midfield display. Both goals were scored by our forwards, answering, albeit temporarily, the concern about our forward line. And with a win against our toughest opponent, I feel very good about our chances progressing out of the group stage.
For those players that don't manage England, have you had success against them? I was shocked I won as England and France dominate the international tournaments for 5-10 years. Normally I fare very poorly this early in the game against England and was surprised that I did so well.