Jude Bellingham turns Scotland boos into applause with England brilliance

Jude Bellingham turns Scotland boos into applause with England brilliance

Gareth Southgate had known that last night's friendly here would be an opportunity to test some of his more inexperienced players, find out what they were made of in an environment crackling with 150 years of rivalry.

Southgate wanted to see how his side would respond to an intimidating atmosphere and in-form opponent, and in the end it was the youngest player on the pitch, Jude Bellingham, who best rose to the occasion to effectively settle football's oldest international duel.

In the most hostile of atmospheres, Bellingham produced another outstanding display for his country, full of vision, skill and controlled menace; encompassing the roles of both conductor and showman.

On and off the pitch, the Scots did their level best to unsettle Bellingham and his team-mates, the Tartan Army drowning out England's anthem with a ferocious cacophony of boos and Scotland's players subjecting the midfielder to some rough treatment in the early exchanges. As he wandered over to the touchline for a drink just before kick-off, Bellingham was subjected to some choice words from the south stand.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The treatment, though, only motivated England to put on a much-improved display after Saturday's drab 1-1 draw with Ukraine, as they ran out 3-1 winners in a friendly to commemorate the first international between the teams.

"When you do that [boo the anthem] to the right team, it can really get under their skin," Bellingham said. "We were so poised, controlled and calm, it really boosted us and gave us a real lift going into the game. We were all really proud to represent our country.

"That's the kind of international games I enjoy and we as a team enjoy, the ones that have more grit to them. Of course, we know it's more than a friendly to the fans, [with] the bragging rights involved in this game."

By the end, a few Scotland fans even appeared to applaud Bellingham for his role in England's third goal, scored by Harry Kane — perhaps the best measure of his brilliance on the night.

Bellingham effortlessly turned away from two Scotland players and drove towards the edge of the box before dropping a shoulder and slipping in Kane to restore England's two-goal cushion after substitute Harry Maguire's own goal had given Scotland hope.

It was the crowning moment of an outstanding display from Bellingham, who was involved in the build-up to Phil Foden's opening goal and scored the second, a smart finish after a dreadful mistake by Scotland captain Andy Robertson.

Really, there should never have been any doubts about Bellingham's ability to shine on this stage, given what he has already achieved: four games in, he is already being talked about as one of Real Madrid's best modern signings after five goals; he captained Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League as a teenager; and starred for England at the World Cup. All this by the age of 20. His full potential is frightening.

"He doesn't have a point to prove to us, we know he is a really good player," Southgate said. "Saturday was not his best game, but we weren't at the level we wanted to be and we knew he has a fantastic personality to come back from that. His performances have been outstanding and one performance isn't going to change that. As an attacking eight, or where he played tonight, he looks to get into the box.

"Tonight, his athleticism to press was so important. Scotland's system is difficult to play against, so we slightly changed our system and he did that well."

Bellingham's display not only further cemented his rise to one of England's undroppables ahead of next summer's European Championship, it went some way to vindicating Southgate, who has faced pressure to add creativity to his midfield in the form of Foden.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On the eve of last night's game, Southgate dismissed the chances of playing Foden centrally, politely encouraging anyone who disagreed to "ask Pep [Guardiola]" why he does not play there regularly for Manchester City.

Last night, there was no need to consult Guardiola. As Bellingham ran the game, it was obvious why Southgate sees England's best path to success at next summer's Euros — and beyond — as giving Bellingham freedom, with two sitting midfielders providing ballast behind him.

"It's just a freedom role really. I get given the freedom by the amazing team-mates and manager that I have [at Real Madrid]," Bellingham said. "I know it depends on the system we play, and we've got so many amazing players to accommodate, and so the team comes first always. I really enjoyed playing in that position today.

"A lot of the lads felt like they didn't perform to their level [against Ukraine]. That's a great attitude to have. Having these wins helps build camaraderie."

Foden and Marcus Rashford also caught the eye, demonstrating Southgate's riches and underlining how far Scotland have to come, even as they stand on the brink of Euros qualification.

No one, though, better demonstrated the gulf between the two teams as Bellingham.