Scotland 1-3 England: No pain, no gain as Steve Clarke's ambitious side look to future tests

"Outclassed. A wake-up call. Enormous gap."

This was some of the reaction from former Scotland players in response to England's dominant 3-1 win in their 'friendly' at Hampden Park.

Over the top? Arguably, yes, especially in the context of Steve Clarke's remarkable run to maximum points in Euro 2024 qualifying.

Not unsurprising, though, given the genuine belief pre-match that Scotland might be able to take another mighty scalp and extend their incredible unbeaten run. And the manner of the dominance England managed to exert for long spells.

In a parallel universe, as events unfolded at Hampden Park, the Tartan Army came within a whisker of having travel plans rubber-stamped for Germany next summer, with Georgia mighty close to a late-equaliser in Norway that would have secured safe passage.

That did not quite materialise on a night things just did not go Scotland's way.

"I'm not sure I was the one getting carried away too much," was Clarke's response after this latest Auld Enemy contest.

"We knew playing against England was going to be difficult. Playing against Spain away is going to be difficult. Playing against France away is going to be difficult, but if you want to learn as a team you have to play against good opposition."

The England manager Gareth Southgate was also quick to dismiss the notion of any 'enormous gap' between the teams during his reflections on proceedings.

Perhaps he was being polite. Or perhaps recognising the form Scotland have been in.

"No, I just think we played exceptionally well," said Southgate. "Tonight was a really good performance from us. Scottish fans should be really proud of how their team are going and the job Steve Clarke is doing."

They undoubtedly are and when the dust settles they will likely remain enthused by the unprecedented journey they have been on of late.

Short-term disappointment for long-term gain?

No pain, no gain seems to be the part of Clarke's grand plan, though.

Scotland fans have endured a hefty dose of that over the years. They got another one, particularly in the first half of a game that, by half-time, some were suddenly dubbing a 'meaningless friendly'.

That old Scottish humour in play as effectively as England were.

"I had some things I wanted to see tonight, before we got to Spain next month for the competitive game," Clarke explained. "I'll go away, analyse the game and see what we can do better.

"The most important thing in this camp was to get three points in Cyprus. We achieved that.

"Obviously, we didn't want to lose to our 'Auld Enemy' but on the night England were better, so sometimes you have to take your medicine in football."

Next summer is when an experience like this might count, assuming nothing unfathomable, from a Scotland point of view, happens in the remainder of this qualification process.

It's one thing getting to Germany. Achieving the Holy Grail, progression in general and beyond the groups of an major international tournament seems to be in Clarke's thinking.

Taking on another stern test away to France might lead to more short-term disappointment. In the long run, it may also pay dividends.

Thinking back to where Scotland have come from brings indicators of how they got here.

It might not feel like it right now for Scotland fans but this is exactly the type of test Steve Clarke wants for his squad and for good reason.

If they are to progress further in what has been an impressive evolution under Clarke, England's quality is the level quality they need to strive to match.

The same was true of travelling to face Turkey last year in what was dubbed a meaningless friendly, just prior to Euro 2024 qualifying getting under way.

In that hostile atmosphere they looked like wilting, responded and kicked off on the run they have been on. The experience seemed to help in the long run and Clarke will hope for a repeat.

Scotland have been magnificent of late. Their Euro 2024 campaign has demonstrated a sizeable growth in squad depth, ability and purpose.

Events simply did not go their way at Hampden against an, at times, very slick, very impressive England.

"You have to learn to play against the speed and physicality of the opposition," Clarke added. "England have certainly got both speed and physicality as well as a lot of talented players."

So do Scotland, as they have demonstrated.

England played at a different level. Clarke knows that and will surely use the experience in the highly testing matches away to Spain and France on road to, almost certainly, Germany 2024.

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