During Steve Clarke’s post-match press conference after a famous and well-earned Scotland draw against England, one name kept cropping up. It was that of Billy Gilmour, who on his first start for the national team, looked at ease running midfield and was one of the best players on the Wembley turf.
There had been calls from Scotland supporters, including former player Ally McCoist, that Gilmour, who only turned 20-years-old last week, should start this grudge game against the auld enemy. Scotland had played reasonably well in their opening Euro 2020 group game but ultimately lost to Czech Republic because of a lack of quality at both ends of the pitch.
There was a feeling that in Scotland’s first appearance at a major finals since the 1998 World Cup, Clarke’s team of 2020 should be bold - Scotland the Brave. All of the work down the years that has gone into qualifying for a tournament, should be rewarded by giving it everything during the few weeks it lasts.
Despite the call to arms, it was widely accepted that Clarke would side with caution and redeploy the same team from Monday’s loss. After all, it was imperative that Scotland remained in contention of progression ahead of the final group game. However, the Scotland manager made the proactive decision of starting Gilmour, and also Che Adams, who worked hard all evening and was a driving force in attack. Yet, it was Gilmour who stole the show.
Gilmour set the tempo
The game had only just kicked off when Gilmour delivered a challenge of club teammate Mason Mount that played into the whole ‘battle’ storyline between England and Scotland. But Gilmour’s passing and showing for the ball was what gave Clarke’s side an extra edge and increased tempo. Gilmour anchored midfield in arguably Scotland’s biggest match for 25 years.
A lot of Gilmour’s display will have been fuelled by adrenaline but this was a performance of poise and composure. In stark contrast to England’s laboured passing, his dictating of the tempo against far more experienced opponents spoke of a player ahead of his years. Gilmour was behind much of Scotland’s good football, of which there was a fair amount.
He plays with his head up, always looking to receive a pass or send one on, with the ambition of moving it forward, not backwards. He completed 40 out of 44 attempted passes, often from the most congested and pressurised areas of the pitch. Given Kieran Tierney was back following a thigh injury and Andy Robertson was his usual adventurous self, Scotland had more than their fair share of eye-catching players.
"There was no risk in starting him when you have a player of Billy Gilmour's talent," Clarke said after the game. "When you put him on the pitch you expect him to do what he did, which is to get hold of the ball and make us play through midfield. The balance of the rest of the team has to be right to support Billy.
"It was nice for Billy to get that start on the big stage. He is a big player. I have said for a long time he is part of the future of Scottish football. We will try to manage him properly and keep a lid on things. Performances like that will do him no harm.”
Robertson added: “It’s right up there [as one of the best performances in a Scotland shirt]. I spoke to him in the hotel and just looked at him, and nothing fazes him. I believe he can have as many caps as he wants for Scotland, he has a huge future ahead, but the here and now is pretty good as well."
Gilmour’s showing was so striking because not many of us have seen too much of him. He doesn’t get as many starts for Chelsea as he probably should. Regular playing time is what he needs now and had Thomas Tuchel watched the game then he would most likely be in agreement. Whether that be out on loan, following a similar pathway to Mount, who he outshone here, or not, Gilmour has much to offer.
It was only natural for a player who has not seen too much game-time to tire and his substitution after 76 minutes confirmed that. But for those 76 minutes, Gilmour showed that he is capable of mixing it with the big boys.