CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) takes a look at the battle of the Auld Enemy at Wembley on Friday. Will the Scot be backing his own side?
England v Scotland | Friday 19:45 | ITV1
It’s England v Scotland on Friday night and for the first time in 17 years these sides meet in a competitive clash.
The last time they clashed in these circumstances was 1999 and a place at Euro 2000 was at stake. Back then the sides were fairly closely matched and it was a genuine surprise to see England win 2-0 at Hampden and put the tie to bed.
Now, in 2016, the sides have a bit more of a distance between them. While the English look distinctly average (like they did around 1999 to be fair) the Scots have lost their way in the intervening years and have failed to qualify for a tournament since.
Continued agony for Scotland
For the Scots the agonies look like continuing after an erratic and dispiriting start to this campaign. Their opening 5-1 win over Malta flattered them but hinted at a bright future; that hope was destroyed last month though after a 3-0 loss in Slovakia came hot on the heels of an utterly inept home draw against Lithuania.
The consequences of that bleak October mean that that is odds on to be Gordon Strachan’s last game in charge of his nation. The hope and ebullience of 2014 hit the skids around 18 months ago and he looks unable to revive spirits amongst the players and fans.
What about England though? Well, like most of us they’ve had an appalling 2016. Euro 2016 was a huge disappointment as Iceland gave them their most infamous defeat in the modern era.
From there Sam Allardyce came in before being dismissed just weeks later. Now the studious but sullen Gareth Southgate has the reins. It’s all very uninspiring and their games in October certainly backed that up (a 2-0 win over Malta and 0-0 draw in Slovenia).
The current England scene feels as flat as it has done since they failed to qualify for Euro 2008. Only a rousing performance here can inject some guile into Gareth’s England.
Death row Scotland can scrap
So as Friday night approaches there’s a real sense of who-gives-a-fuck. This is the fixture that you’re brought up on as a Scot, the game that gets your heart beating faster at the very thought of it. But that’s missing for me this week. Call it a post-Trump gloom if you like.
Scotland’s only hope on Friday night is that the players are able to channel these raw, unsophisticated, 20th century feelings of getting one over England. I have to say I think it’s a possibility.
The Scots arrive here on death row pretty much. Pride is at a low ebb, their abilities are being questioned and a manager (I think) they get on with is facing the boot. There’s a wee bit to scrap for here.
Scotland have a history of raising their game against the top seeds in the group even during these dark times of the 21st century and I expect to see the same on Friday.
The Scots scored three times against Germany in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and put the same number past Spain in Euro 2012 qualifying. They gave the Dutch a fright at Hampden in the previous campaign and of course saw off France in Glasgow in 2006.
While this side is not as strong as the 2006 edition I do think the personnel are good enough to compete with England in periods on Friday night.
I’ve been swooning for a long time at England’s sexy qualification record. Southgate’s side haven’t lost in seven years in a qualifier (nine in a meaningful one) and I don’t expect that record to end on Friday night.
Scotland can land a blow
What I do expect is Scotland to get two or three big blows onto the English chops. It would be unforgivable if they didn’t and the familiar theme of brave failure may just pop up again on Friday for us Scots.
First bet in the portfolio is Both Teams To Score at a heaving 6/4 with William Hill. The stats certainly don’t back this up from an England point of view with four clean sheets in their last five matches and seven straight in qualifying.
But let’s not forget the Scots have scored in Germany, Croatia and Poland in the last three years and a fixture against the Auld Enemy is surely going to fire them up. If not, just withdraw from FIFA lads.
Scotland may indeed put up a fight on Friday but my feeling is that it will be in vain against an England side who have mastered these kind of ties. I’ll throw 2-1 and 3-1 England Correct Score bets into the mix at 17/2 and 14/1 respectively. More heartache awaits beleaguered Scotland.
England v Scotland – Both Teams To Score (6/4 William Hill)
England v Scotland – England to win 2-1 (17/2 BetVictor)
England v Scotland – England to win 3-1 (14/1 William Hill)