In the end, Harry Kane did almost everything Gareth Southgate had hoped he might. This game had gone, the visitors apparently broken by Leigh Griffiths’ pair of free-kicks, when Raheem Sterling cut inside and flung over one last desperate cross from the left and there, opening up his body in mid-air to meet the delivery as sweetly as he could, was England’s captain to guide home a first international goal in 13 months. The manager leapt into the air, his manic celebrations born as much of relief as delight. He had been at pains to point out that talent, eventually, will out. There was evidence of Kane’s pedigree in his timing.
Plucking that point from the dregs of a furious contest left the English buoyed, for all that the shortcomings of the team’s display in Glasgow will surely trouble Southgate over his summer. For Kane, the plunder was more personal. This had in effect been his audition, the fifth captain of Southgate’s tenure to date making his influence felt just as embarrassment – and a first loss to bitter rivals in more than 17 years – had beckoned. “It has ended as a special day,” he said. “To be 2-1 down in stoppage time from nowhere, getting that goal is special. We found another gear, and it feels like a good point.”
The dramatic nature of the equaliser had effectively cleansed the visitors’ performance, all the exasperation the 23-year-old forward had endured up to then on his first appearance for Southgate going exorcised at the last. That finish was Kane inspiring his team-mates as captains should, when the scenario was at its grimmest. The manager would prefer not to contemplate who will take the armband on a permanent basis just yet, concentrating as he is on strengthening the collective, but he may just have found his man. Last gasp contributions tend to have such far-reaching effects.
Kane, a forward with 75 Premier League goals to his name over the past three terms and seven in his final two outings of the season, would have expected to prosper here. After all, the Tottenham Hotspur striker found himself confronted by Christophe Berra, a player whose contract at Ipswich – mid-table in the Championship – expires at the end of the month before a summer return to Hearts. Evade Berra and there was Charlie Mulgrew, recently relegated to League One with Blackburn. Kane has prospered against better players all year, and would ease between the latter and the impressive Kieran Tierney to volley home his reward. Yet it said much about Scottish resilience that this contest had actually drifted beyond the mid-way period in the second half before he had glimpsed a proper sight at goal.
Ryan Bertrand mustered a centre to exploit momentary hesitation, the Scots apparently distracted by a substitution on their right, only for Craig Gordon to react and turn away Kane’s flashed header. That was as close as he came until stoppage time, when it had appeared even the Royal Marines, England’s saviours last weekend on the infamous “sheep dip” on Woodbury Common, could not spare them the ignominy of defeat. Southgate will delight in a point but will recognise plenty of failings from this showing. For long periods this had been a painful reminder of the truism every recent permanent England manager, bar Sam Allardyce, has learned to endure. The England team which reconvenes in the summer, most obviously at tournaments, tends to lack the effervescence they usually display in the autumn internationals, the long slog of a Premier League campaign having dulled their sparkle.
There was a sloppiness in their possession, the cross-field passes as likely to soar over full-backs’ heads as find an ally. The attacking play was prone to overelaboration, the slicker moves invariably running aground on massed ranks of rugged Scottish defence, with Marcus Rashford’s instincts forever to drift into central areas when England needed to stretch their opponents further wide. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who would eventually provide some hustle and bustle to prise the home side apart five minutes after his introduction, appeared a more natural fit in that role.
This was Southgate’s first taste, as senior manager, of a familiar issue. The Tottenham contingent, whose season had extended to five competitions, had taken part in a post-season friendly in Hong Kong since domestic duties were curtailed. Rashford, his senior career still in its infancy, has never known a season of such first-team toil. Perhaps that explained a lack of dynamism, though it could hardly be used as an excuse. The Scots, with their hefty Celtic contingent, have hardly spent the past nine months with their feet up. How this arena rocked as Griffiths threatened to pilfer the points at the death. The pained intake of breath which greeted Kane’s equaliser was one of resignation.
Even so, the visitors’ lack of efficiency with the ball will have infuriated Southgate. It also served to heighten Kane’s anxiety while that goal drought at this level, stretching back to the friendly win over Turkey last May, was still playing on his mind. The two chances that fell to the forward up to the interval were both awkward, the first born of Eric Dier’s lofted pass with Kane shinning his attempt high and wide. There was more precision to Bertrand’s exchange with Adam Lallana moments later, the Liverpool midfielder scuttling to the byline to clip over a cross, but the captain was on his heels and could not collect cleanly. Fortunately for England, his moment was still to come. “This is a day I’ll never forget,” he added before departing the arena. The captain had made his point.