The applause was grudging and the words of praise spoken in hushed tones, but it was a measure of how England’s Jude Bellingham ruled Hampden Park that even some Scotland fans were finally prepared to set 150 years of rivalry aside to acknowledge his brilliance.
Bellingham’s vision and touch put the concluding flourish on a performance of world-class quality by creating Harry Kane’s late goal, setting the seal on a comfortable 3-1 win in this celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first meeting between Scotland and England.
It was then that a brave few Scotland fans – only a few mind you – put their hands together in appreciation for a masterclass from 20-year-old Bellingham.
There was no shame in Scotland being run ragged by Bellingham, who played a part in England’s first goal scored by Phil Foden then scored the second himself after an awful error by Scotland captain Andrew Robertson, as he has been ripping up La Liga since his summer move to Real Madrid.
It was Bellingham who felt the full force and fury of Hampden Park when he came towards the touchline for a drink seconds before kick-off and was given some colourful analysis of his ability by fired up Scotland fans.
Bellingham was the target for some initial Scotland efforts to test his temperament and knock him out of his stride, but he has the edge to go with his natural gifts, rode out that early storm and simply played on a different level to everyone else on the pitch.
The 20-year-old has elegance and power, and can create and score goals. Bellingham is, quite simply, the complete package. England manager Gareth Southgate has a truly special talent on his hands, a player who will be the envy of any other country in world football.
Bellingham, as he admitted himself, was below his usual standards during Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Wroclaw, but everything about his body language and intent when in possession screamed of someone laser-focused on ensuring that would not happen again.
England’s overall display was much more cohesive and threatening than the dull offering in Poland, with Manchester City’s Foden making the most of his opportunity and Kane applying the final blow to Scotland.
The build-up to the game carried all the hallmarks of this great old rivalry with noise, colour, pyrotechnics and a rousing rendition of Flower Of Scotland to stir the blood of Scottish fans – not that it needed much stirring once they caught sight of England’s white shirts.
Bellingham was the name on everyone’s lips, even reluctantly among the small band of Scotland fans who chose to publicly appreciate England’s superstar – belatedly and once the game was lost, admittedly.
Southgate knew this was an awkward assignment, not simply because Scotland have improved under the excellent guidance of Steve Clarke to the extent that they look as certain to qualify for Euro 2024 as their adversaries from across the border, but also because this game always carries meaning and fierce competitiveness.
Scotland have closed the gap but this demonstrated that it remains a considerable one, as proved by the manner of England’s win and how they clearly contained all the high-class performers in this game.
One other England player, apart from Bellingham, was acknowledged by Scotland’s supporters but this was in loud and ironic fashion and again flagged up a long-term dilemma for Southgate.
When Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi went off at half-time, Southgate chose not to use AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori or throw in Chelsea’s Levi Colwill.
Instead, Manchester United’s outcast former captain Harry Maguire was plunged into the fray, to the same deafening ironic roars from Scotland fans that greeted him from the home support when he was brought on at Arsenal recently.
Maguire’s every touch was mocked in similar fashion inside Hampden Park. It was, presumably, not Southgate’s intention to lift the mood of Scotland’s subdued followers as they trailed 2-0, but that was exactly the impact of the 30-year-old’s introduction.
England’s fans responded by loudly rallying to Maguire’s cause but there was a grim predictability about what happened in the 67th minute, the defender lazily sticking out a leg to divert Robertson’s cross past helpless keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Hampden Park rocked to the sound of renewed hope that lasted until Kane scored nine minutes from time – leaving Maguire to pump his fists in front of England’s fans in thanks for their backing.
It would take a heart of stone, or an opposition supporter, not to feel some measure of sympathy for a player whose career has come to a standstill at club level and does not seem able to catch a break when he does make a rare appearance.
Maguire currently faces many tests, most significantly having to deal with Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag who clearly does not rate him, and a reduced standing among opposition fans that makes for uncomfortable listening – for the neutrals at least – when he plays.
The problem for Southgate, and it will not go away, is that he is maintaining loyalty to a player who is not playing for his club, not getting the tests and games that will keep him sharp for what England expect will be a Euro 2024 campaign in Germany next summer.
This is the crux of this whole contentious matter.
Maguire, who rejected the chance to get his club career going by failing to agree a move to West Ham United, has made his bed at club level with that decision and time will tell if it shapes his career at international level.
For now, though, Southgate is not for turning.
Indeed, Southgate came out fighting against Maguire’s treatment in his post-match media briefing, turning on those who have criticised him.
He said: “From a Scotland fan’s point of view I get it. I have absolutely no complaint with what they did. It’s a consequence of ridiculous treatment of him for a long period of time.
“It’s a joke. I’ve never known a player treated the way he is. Not by the Scottish fans but by our own commentators, pundits or whatever it is. They’ve created something that’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”
Southgate’s loyalty to Maguire is admirable in some respects, as is his stout defence of a player who has served him so well, but it may be unsustainable.
England’s win delivered another factor into Southgate’s future selection equation in the composed performance of Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, who was comfortable on the ball, powerful in the air and made several key interceptions on the very few occasions Scotland threatened.
This was a chance for the 31-year-old to state his England case and he did it very eloquently to increase competition in Southgate’s defensive areas.
If Maguire is a man who now faces a constant fight to prolong his England career, Hampden Park bore witness to a player with a golden future in front of him in Jude Bellingham.