England 'on road to rehabilitation' after victory in Scotland

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Wayne Rooney celebrates his second goal in England's 3-1 win at Celtic Park
England's 3-1 win over Scotland was their sixth in succession since their early World Cup exit in the summer

Scotland's plan was, in line with the words of their pre-match anthem that echoed thunderously around Celtic Park, to send England homeward to think again.

Instead, on England's first visit north of the border since 1999, the "Auld Enemy" outclassed Scotland to take another step on the road to rehabilitation after the misery of the World Cup in Brazil.

England have not tested their recovery from the trauma of South America against any of football's elite, so the manner in which they have bounced back must be judged in that context - but a clean sweep of victories since that final meaningless, goalless group game against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte is still a very impressive statistic.


England's 3-1 win in the intimidating surroundings of Celtic Park, and against a Scotland team on an upward curve under manager Gordon Strachan, was arguably their most complete since the World Cup.

Manager Roy Hodgson saw his side open with an intensity that is sometimes missing from the opening phases of their games and maintained it throughout. Scotland boss Strachan was fulsome in his praise for England.

Scotland 1-3 England: Roy Hodgson praises players

The tale of the tape reads played six and won six since the World Cup - with 15 goals scored and only two conceded - including four Euro 2016 qualifiers against Switzerland, San Marino, Estonia and Slovenia bookended by friendly wins against Norway and now Scotland.

England have not conceded a goal in the first half of any of their last seven games and one of those two goals conceded was Jordan Henderson's deft header into his own net against Slovenia.

There can be no question England's cause has been helped by a kind Euro 2016 qualifying draw, but the visit on to footballing enemy ground in Glasgow was perhaps a more realistic test of their standing than most of their qualifiers.

And judged on that, the comprehensive manner of this win may have told Hodgson more about his players than routine victories in qualifiers.

Scotland may have had only two Premier League players in their starting line-up, Hull City's Andrew Robertson and Everton forward Steven Naismith, and played like a team whose main business for this international break had been concluded with the Euro 2016 qualifying win against the Republic of Ireland, but England did not hang around to wait to find out.

In a predictably hostile atmosphere they went straight on to the front foot and never allowed Scotland into the game. It was a test of their mettle, their nerve and their stomach for the fight and they came through with pass marks.

England results since World Cup
3 SeptemberNorway (H)1-0
8 SeptemberSwitzerland (A)2-0
9 OctoberSan Marino (H)5-0
12 OctoberEstonia (A)1-0
15 NovemberSlovenia (H)3-1
18 NovemberScotland (A)3-1

And it was a win achieved so comfortably against a Scotland team that ensured England arrived in a country with rapidly increasing optimism, especially after the vital 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifier win against the Republic of Ireland on Friday.

Hodgson praised the maturity of his players "under the magnifying glass", saying: "I'm not sure they needed to prove they were real men. I knew that. But this was a game played in a real goldfish bowl."

Let's not get carried away as England are still strictly second tier when it comes to world football's elite - but it is churlish to offer too much criticism of such a run of wins when the last time they achieved something similar was in June 2006.


Since the World Cup, Hodgson has made tweaks to his squad and his team and there were optimistic signs for the future amid the tumult of Celtic Park.

Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne was highly impressive again, both in defence and attack. There is an opening for a right-back in England's team and he has walked through it. He has shown enough to warrant a good run in the team.

England debutants since the Brazil World Cup
Calum ChambersArsenalv Norway
Fabian DelphAston Villav Norway
Nathaniel ClyneSouthamptonv Slovenia

Jack Wilshere was England's best player against Scotland, a commanding display characterised by the raking, driven pass that created the first goal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - oddly his first assist on his 26th international appearance.

The enthusiasm for the use of Wilshere at the base of England's diamond must be tempered by the simple truth that he has not yet faced top-class opposition in that role. This is the acid test, but he dictated affairs here.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was another bonus, scoring for the first time since his goal in the 2-2 draw against Brazil in the Maracana in June 2013.

Another significant stat to help his case may be that he is something of a lucky charm for Hodgson. England have never lost a game in which he has figured, with a record of played 20, won 14 and drawn six.


The debate raged about whether Wayne Rooney could be considered an England "great" in the build-up to his 100th appearance when he played against Slovenia on Saturday, but what is not a matter for serious discussion is his worth to this team and manager Roy Hodgson.

The numbers are out there. The two goals against Scotland edged him ahead of the great Jimmy Greaves and into third place on his own in the all-time standings with 46, two behind Gary Lineker and three behind all-time record holder Sir Bobby Charlton.

Wayne Rooney and Roy Hodgson
Wayne Rooney was made England captain after Steven Gerrard quit international football

Of current significance is his record of 18 goals in 28 appearances under Hodgson. He has now scored in six of his last seven England starts, scoring seven goals in total.

Here in Scotland he gave a performance of maturity and class, scoring twice and setting the tone for England's display from the first whistle with his intense, committed - but never out of control - approach.

And in the days before the game, captain Rooney made it his business to address the young players in England's squad to make them aware of the special, hostile atmosphere they would face. Forewarned is forearmed and here he showed a sure touch with his team-mates.

In the current England set-up, he is indispensible.


Just a couple on an otherwise highly satisfactory night for England and Hodgson.

Why was Everton's Ross Barkley given a walk-on part of a couple of minutes at the end? What was the point? Surely Celtic Park was the ideal place to give this lavishly talented youngster at least 45 minutes to test out his temperament and decision-making.

Scotland 1-3 England: Strachan feels England 'spooked' Scotland

And will the return of Stewart Downing to England's colours for the first time since he played in Hodgson's first game in charge in Norway in May 2012 be a "blink and you missed it" affair?

He had an undistinguished 45 minutes, looking nothing like the player who has excelled for West Ham United this season.

However, rather than playing in the more central position he occupies under Sam Allardyce for his club, Downing was shunted out to the left in a 4-3-3 formation and consequently looked like the under-achiever of the past.

And Liverpool's Rickie Lambert (barely causing a ripple at Anfield this season) on for 11 minutes? Why not give West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino a brief taste of what might be expected of him at international level?


England resume in March with what should be another routine Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Lithuania but then face a stern test with a friendly in Italy four days later.

The diary of fixtures, mainly the remaining qualifiers, merely reads like a smooth passage to France and perhaps even the opportunity for Hodgson to indulge in some experimentation with the possibility of early qualification.

Another friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on 7 June will sharpen the reflexes for a visit to Slovenia a week later - but this excellent win in Scotland ensures 2014 will end with England in good spirits.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's opening goal helped England win on their first visit to Glasgow since 1999
Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney has now scored 46 international goals for England after his double against Scotland
Roy Hodgson
Roy Hodgson's England have won six games since failing to get out of their group in the 2014 World Cup
England are top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group with four victories from four matches


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