England emerged triumphant against their oldest foes to seriously dent Scotland’s World Cup hopes, increasing the pressure on Gordon Strachan and the likelihood of interim manager Gareth Southgate staying in charge.
The complexion of Group F – and both managers’ future – was riding on the neighbours’ 113th meeting, which started with them standing shoulder-to-shoulder and defying FIFA by wearing black armbands bearing a poppy on Armistice Day.
The fallout to that and this result is likely to dominate the coming days, with England securing a 3-0 win as Southgate’s men made their chances count against profligate Scotland – their biggest win in this fixture since 1975.
Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill’s goals ratchet up the pressure on Strachan, with the defeat – and last month’s poor displays – leaving his side six points off their neighbours after just four qualifiers.
Interim England manager Southgate’s chances of permanently succeeding Sam Allardyce will only improve with this win, but his men were somewhat fortuitous not to have seen Sturridge’s first-half header cancelled out by much-changed Scotland.
Grant Hanley, James Forrest and Robert Snodgrass all had chances before Lallana nodded home his second international goal in as many games, with Cahill directing home a Wayne Rooney corner to add gloss to the scoreline.
Strachan’s eight changes had always looked a gamble but they started brightly – albeit nowhere near as bright as their garish pink kit.
Forrest saw a deflected effort comfortably dealt with by Joe Hart shortly after captain Darren Fletcher’s missed, with Scotland’s sturdy challenges and early intensity causing England problems.
It took 20 minutes for the home side to settle, with referee Cuneyt Cakir ignoring shouts for a penalty after Raheem Sterling went down under pressure from Lee Wallace.
The in-form winger was proving a nuisance and his directness drew a free-kick that Rooney looked destined to hit the target with until Hanley flicked wide.
England were now in the ascendancy though and eked out a 24th-minute opener.
Kyle Walker collected the ball on the right after Sterling saw a shot blocked, with the marauding Tottenham right-back driving in a cross that Sturridge directed past Craig Gordon.
The striker’s fourth England goal in six Wembley starts raised the volume but also Scotland’s tempo, with Griffiths fizzing a shot that was blocked by John Stones for a corner that the visitors should have equalised from.
Hanley was left unmarked and well-placed, yet the Newcastle defender sent his header well over.
Snodgrass was furious not to be slid through by Griffiths after Rooney gave away possession as Scotland saw another opportunity pass them by, ensuring England went in ahead at half-time.
But just like the first half Scotland started the stronger and a lovely flowing move almost brought the equaliser.
Wallace’s cross, thanks in no small part to Griffiths cleverly running over the ball, saw Forrest get the ball and hit a left-footed drive wide, which was soon followed by Stones blocking a close-range Snodgrass effort.
They were two fine chances and the inability to net allowed England to move further ahead, with the overlapping Rose sending over a cross met by a brilliant Lallana header.
Strachan’s visible frustration was understandable and, after James Morrison and Griffiths had efforts, matters got worse.
Rooney’s inswinging corner was met at the near post by Cahill, with the Chelsea defender rising highest at the near post to glance home with just under 30 minutes remaining.
The third extinguished hope of a Scotland comeback, with Sterling inexplicably turning over from close range when it was far easier to net.
It was the last attempt of note as England took their foot off the gas, with the home fans cheering every touch as pockets of the vociferous 14,000 travelling support made an early exit.