On the scoresheet, it was Scott McTominay who got the job done for Scotland as they edged closer to 2022 World Cup qualification with a stoppage time winner against Israel. However, anyone who watched Scotland’s 3-2 victory will have seen another Premier League midfielder make the difference.
Billy Gilmour’s name might not have appeared on the scoresheet, but he was the one who pushed Scotland to a momentous home win at Hampden Park, sold out for an international match for the first time in four years. Israel matched the hosts for the most part, but they didn’t have someone like Gilmour on the pitch.
The opening 45 minutes were too frantic from Scotland as they fell behind twice to a more clinical opponent, but by the time the second half started Gilmour had decided to take a grip of things. With greater control in the centre of the pitch, Steve Clarke’s team were able to attack in waves. Israel couldn’t get out.
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Gilmour’s second half display underlined his importance to Scotland. The 20-year-old only made his competitive debut at senior international level against England at Euro 2020, when he produced a Man of the Match performance, but has quickly become the player around which all else revolves.
It was a similar story in last month’s away win against Austria that put Scotland’s World Cup qualification fate back in their own hands. Faced with a tricky test against an opposition team that made the last 16 of Euro 2020 and pushed the eventual winners to a penalty shootout, Gilmour still had the technical ability and courage to dictate the contest.
Scotland’s current crop is their greatest in a number of years. Their team is now largely made up of players operating at Premier League level with the likes of Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and McTominay at three of England’s biggest clubs. But it is Gilmour’s emergence that has given Scotland a genuine chance of success.
He is the one with the ability to defuse a situation. With the ability to drive Scotland forward, as he did in the second half against Israel when the hosts needed two goals. Gilmour’s defensive contribution shouldn’t be overlooked either - he is always among the quickest to press high and get a foot in.
“We knew we could play a lot better at half-time, ” Robertson told Sky Sports after the dramatic win over Israel, highlighting how the second half saw Scotland take a grip of things largely through Gilmour. “We’d rather win two or three nil and not have it be nervy, but that’s not Scotland is it? I grew up watching the national team, it’s never comfortable is it?”
Without Gilmour, Clarke’s team are too quick to bypass the midfield - a feature of Scotland’s play for the best part of two decades. With him, though, there is a measure to their play. They can hold their own against anyone even if they sometimes lack cutting edge in attack. Gilmour gives Clarke’s team personality.
Chelsea’s decision to let Gilmour leave on loan for Norwich City this season might have been questionable with the Canaries rooted to the foot of the Premier League and set for a scrap against relegation, but his performances for Scotland continue to highlight all that he offers.
There is still much work for Scotland to do until they can celebrate qualification for their first World Cup since 1998, but what they are producing right now is about more than just their passage to one tournament. Clarke is putting in place the core of a team that could sustain Scotland for the next decade to come. Gilmour brings more to that group than anyone else.
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