Gareth Southgate took a giant step towards being appointed as Englands next full-time manager after the penultimate match of his initial four-game interim tenure ended with an emphatic 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over auld enemy Scotland at Wembley on Friday night (11 November). Such a pleasing result saw the Three Lions, who still have not lost a major tournament qualifier for seven years, reinforce their position at the top of Group F with four matches played on the road to Russia.
In stark contrast to Southgate, Scotland boss Gordon Strachan may now feel his position has been rendered untenable after another sobering night that follows last months humiliating defeat to Slovakia.
Scotland, showing a bold eight changes from that embarrassment in Trnava, actually made the more confident start to the 114th edition of world footballs oldest international fixture. Passionate midfielder Scott Brown, back in the fold after a short-lived international retirement that lasted all of three games, sliced an effort wide and busy Celtic teammate James Forrest saw a deflected shot comfortably held by Joe Hart.
Gary Cahill and especially John Stones looked particularly uncomfortable in possession early on while Adam Lallana, never one to pass up the opportunity of a Cruyff turn, very nearly played his side into trouble with an ill-advised piece of skill.
The initially sloppy hosts had two speculative penalty calls waved away by referee Cuneyt Cakir when Raheem Sterling fell too easily under the aerial challenge of Grant Hanley. Jordan Henderson also had an attempted pass inadvertently blocked by the arm of Leigh Griffiths after a low, diagonal corner won when Hanley headed a dangerous Wayne Rooney free-kick to safety. The much-maligned Manchester United skipper returned to earn his 119th cap as the central pivot in an attacking three behind Daniel Sturridge after being dropped for Octobers insipid stalemate in Slovenia.
After initially pressing high up the pitch, Scotland began to drop off and they paid the price after another brief handball call against Hanley. Kyle Walker collected possession on the right-hand side and provided an inviting cross to the near post, where the instinctive Daniel Sturridge, yet to score a Premier League goal for Liverpool so far this season, was on hand to flick a clever header past helpless Craig Gordon.
Scotland looked to recover from that setback quickly, but Hanley could only head Robert Snodgrass corner into row z despite successfully evading his marker. Griffiths was a picture of frustration after ponderously spurning an excellent break opportunity that came after a misplaced pass from Rooney. Again England appealed for a spot-kick when Danny Rose tumbled rather theatrically in front of a boisterous Tartan Army that had travelled south of the border in brilliant numbers, but Cakir remained unmoved and the Tottenham left-back was treated to some choice words from an irate Snodgrass.
Sturridges header should have had a calming effect, but instead England continued to look needlessly nervous on the ball and conceded possession in thoughtless fashion on several more occasions before the break when trying to play out from the back. A poor spectacle drained much of the life out of an atmosphere that had been crackling with anticipation before kick-off.
Scotland looked to rouse themselves immediately after the interval, with Forrest dragging a shot agonisingly wide of the post after an unfortunate Ikechi Anya miss-kick. Stones also made a vital last-ditch block to deny Snodgrass.
Strachans visible disappointment at seeing his side spurn two important chances was exacerbated just a minute later when they went further behind. Having soaked up that initial bout of pressure, England sprang forward with menace. Sterling and Rose combined to good effect down the left and the latter teed up a delivery that was headed home with aplomb by the increasingly influential Lallana.
That second goal added some notable spice to proceedings and still Scotland tried to threaten as James Morrison drove straight at Hart and Griffiths fired a difficult volley over the crossbar. England were just far more clinical, however, and added a third when Cahill rose highest at the front post to head home Rooneys corner via the fingertips of Gordon.
Demoralised, Scotland had a penalty shout of their own rejected when Snodgrass was felled by a meaty challenge from Rose. Indeed, they were lucky not to concede a fourth when Sterling inexplicably blazed over with an empty net at his mercy after being played in by Lallana. The Manchester City winger then tried to turn provider, but Anya did just enough to thwart the efforts of substitute Jamie Vardy.
Eric Diers deflected free-kick aside, the final portion of the game lacked any real action of note until Rooney was deservedly booked for scything down Griffiths as he scampered forward in search of a consolation strike. He took the free-kick himself, but failed to trouble Hart with an effort that flew wide of the post.
England now switch their focus to a high-profile friendly meeting with Spain on Tuesday, the final match of Southgates caretaker spell, while Scotland are surely likely to ponder a managerial change before returning to action against Slovenia in March.