By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Journeyman striker Rickie Lambert scored with his first touch in international football as England fought off a tenacious Scottish uprising to earn a 3-2 friendly victory at Wembley on Wednesday.
The 31-year-old former beetroot factory worker, who has worked his way through the minor leagues, thundered home a 70th-minute header just after coming off the bench to seal victory for England who twice trailed.
In the first meeting of international football’s oldest rivals for 14 years, Scotland took a shock early lead through James Morrison and after Theo Walcott levelled they sent the 25,000-strong Tartan Army wild again just after the break when veteran Kenny Miller fired home a low shot.
Danny Welbeck again soothed English nerves with a second equaliser before Lambert, who arrived at Southampton via outposts like Macclesfield, Stockport County and Rochdale, sealed a dream debut with the winning goal.
He could have scored again in stoppage time but shot against the post with the goal at his mercy.
“I’ve been dreaming of that all my life, it means so much,” Lambert said. “It was my first chance from a corner and I fancy myself in the air, it was a great ball from Leighton Baines and I got a firm header on it.
“I was trying to play it cool this week but deep down I wanted to scream. It was brilliant. It shows how far I’ve come.”
Victory papered over worrying cracks, however, for England who should have been far too strong for a Scotland side already out of contention for a World Cup berth.
After the ritual booing of the respective national anthems the match began with light drizzle coating the lush Wembley turf and expectancy hanging in the air.
Once a regular feature of the British sporting calendar the fixture which was first played in 1872 has become a rarity.
The Scottish fans, many in kilts, were determined to enjoy the occasion and they were celebrating after 11 minutes.
England failed to properly clear a corner and when the ball arrived at Morrison just outside the penalty area the West Bromwich Albion player steadied himself and struck a fierce shot that looked comfortable for England keeper Joe Hart.
However, not for the first time in his England career, Hart proved less than a safe last line of defence as the ball squirmed off his arm and into the net.
England’s midfield trio of captain Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley was struggling to open up the Scots until a first-time pass from Cleverley sent Walcott scorching past Steven Whittaker before cutting inside to send a left-foot shot past Scotland keeper Allan McGregor.
Wayne Rooney, whose Manchester United future has been the subject of summer-long speculation, occasionally threatened and drilled a low shot just wide on the half hour.
With three of England’s last four World Cup qualifiers at Wembley against teams expected to sit deep, the friendly was useful exercise for Roy Hodgson’s players in the art of turning possession into clear-cut scoring chances.
However, the failure to stop goals flying in at the other end will be furrowing Hodgson’s brow in the coming weeks.
England had only kept three clean sheets in their previous 11 matches, two against San Marino, and Scotland penetrated the home rearguard again four minutes into the second half when Kenny Miller deceived the lumbering Gary Cahill and struck a low shot past Hart.
This time the lead only lasted four minutes as Danny Welbeck met Gerrard’s free kick with a glancing header to make it 2-2.
Friendly international are often derided as pointless by fans and club managers alike, but this one was anything but the often sterile, listless matches that litter the calendar.
The tackles flew in and the crowd roarded as both sides went for victory but it was England who nicked it thanks to Lambert.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)