Scotland cast doubt on toothless England's hopes of Euro 2020 glory
Gutsy Scotland hold lethargic England at Wembley
Time and time again, England fans have been guilty of getting a little ahead of themselves in the early stages of a major tournament. Before kick-off at Wembley on Friday, however, you could have almost excused it. Three points in the bag already, a youthful squad, brimming with attacking options. This was the night to make a statement; to breeze into the knock out stages of Euro 2020 with a comprehensive victory over the Old Enemy.
Except, no. This was a game in which lofty expectations may have been scaled back for many. England had to settle for a goalless draw with Scotland. They could, on the balance of the quality of chances created, have easily lost.
Scotland started the game fearlessly, pressing high and creating the first genuine chance through Che Adams, whose shot from a pulled-back cross was blocked. Minutes later came England's best opportunity as an unmarked John Stones rattled a header against the post from a corner. Gareth Southgate's side could not build on the opportunity. But for Jordan Pickford, they would have conceded from Stephen O’Donnell's well-controlled volley as the seconds ticked away towards half-time.
The game was frantic and physical for the duration - every inch a derby - and Scotland appeared more comfortable, continuing to create and squander opportunities in the second half. Lyndon Dykes saw a hooked shot headed away from goal by Reece James after England failed to deal with a corner. Adams, who caused England problems throughout, sliced a dropping cross wide late on.
To say Scotland were dominant would be unfair, but they were good value for their point, one which keeps alive their hopes of securing a berth in the knockout rounds. Few could have complained had they forced a winner.
The result is hardly disastrous for England's hopes of progression, yet their failure to assert themselves against an inferior team poses plenty of questions about their credentials to make a serious run for Euro 2020 glory.
Harry Kane will take the majority of the flak. He is, after all, the main man, the player the rest of the team has been built around. Again, as was the case against Croatia, he was a passenger. Save for him creating one brief glimmer of an opening for a shot from the edge of area in the second half, he was worryingly lethargic. Scotland - superbly well-drilled in their 5-3-2 formation - repeatedly cut off the supply lines with ease. Kane looked lost.
To lay all of the blame at his feet would be wrong, however. With such an abundance of creative options at his disposal, Southgate's management of the game will again been called into question. His reluctance to introduce Jack Grealish sooner was reflected by the irony-tinged cheers which greeted his arrival in the 63rd minute. The decision to bring him on for Phil Foden - England's most energetic and dangerous player throughout the first hour - instead of sacrificing one of his deeper lying midfielders is a move that will no doubt be seen as overly cautious by some. Jadon Sancho, too, remained an unused substitute, despite boasting an impressive goal contribution record for Borussia Dortmund this season.
Tournament football requires a degree of caution, however. Southgate will know that with a win against Croatia in their opener, England had no need to take unnecessary attacking risks in pursuit of a winner if that made his side more vulnerable. A point against the Czechs will be enough for Southgate's side to progress at Euro 2020, but such a blunt, unimaginative showing will rightly cast doubt on whether this England side are genuine contenders to go all the way.