On paper it was just a friendly but pitch-side it was a different story: England and Scotland locked horns to renew an age-old rivalry and played out an entertaining game that ended in a 3-2 victory for the home side.
A packed Wembley absorbed a fast-paced, high-pressure encounter and, with plenty of Premier League stars on show, the 90-minute exhibition only served to heighten anticipation for this weekend's big kick-off.
The Three Lions started on the front foot, with Steven Gerrard playing in a regista-esque role and controlling the tempo and pace. Jack Wilshere, earning just his seventh cap, showed some good touches combined with the sort of calmness in midfield that fans have been yearning for since the horror show at Euro 2012.
Kyle Walker and Leighton Baines were pushing forward well, and Scott Brown was immediately forced to make a vital interception in a dangerous area.
Scotland soon settled, though, and with the help of their vocal travelling support, raised their game and challenged the hosts to a battle of intensity and speed.
Minutes later, the Dark Blues were ahead, James Morrison smashing home from outside the box after a corner was only half cleared.
A clean, dipping strike it might have been but Joe Hart made a real mess of it, allowing the ball to bounce into the net off his body after failing to palm it away.
England recoiled, recovered and drew level just over 15 minutes later, with Theo Walcott slipped in behind Steven Whittaker by Tom Cleverley's sublime pass. Walcott drifted inside and finished at the near post.
Suddenly the Three Lions clicked into gear, with Wilshere and Wayne Rooney beginning to link up nicely and Gerrard lofting dangerous diagonals and chips forward.
Just before half-time, Rooney scored a delightful goal which was wrongly ruled out for offside, and the two teams went in at the break level at one apiece.
One change from Hodgson saw Frank Lampard replace Wilshere but England started in a sluggish fashion and soon fell behind for a second time.
Alan Hutton fired a ball in from the right which was controlled by Kenny Miller. The No. 9 swivelled his marker and fired home, expertly finding the corner with his left peg.
Wembley sat silenced, stunned, but only for three minutes: Gerrard flighted a perfect ball in from a free kick and Danny Welbeck squeezed a superb header in at the goalkeeper's right.
A flurry of substitutions disrupted the flow of play but one man in particular captured the hearts of the crowd immediately as he trotted on to the field.
One appearance, one minute, one touch, one goal.
The Three Lions saw out the victory comfortably and Lambert even had time to smack the post from seven yards. A valuable, intense game from which both managers can draw a lot—far removed from your usual, dull friendly.
Key Player Grades
Steven Gerrard, England: B-
Hodgson's captain dictated play well until he was substituted in the 62nd minute.
He looks an international player reborn in his Andrea Pirlo-style role, pinging incisive diagonals down the channels and superbly picking out runs in behind the defence.
Alan Hutton, Scotland: B
Hutton put in a great shift at right-back for Gordon Strachan's side on Wednesday, steaming up and down the flank and providing an outlet for his midfielders.
He grabbed an assist for Miller's goal with a nice ball in and, considering he's played no part in Aston Villa's preseason programme, his fitness levels were nothing short of astonishing.
Rickie Lambert, England: B+
When Lambert walked on to the pitch, Wembley Stadium took it up a notch in terms of noise levels and when he pierced the net with a powerful header, the crowd erupted.
He was the spark, the catalyst, and Hodgson would be wise to ensure he's in the next squad to face Moldova.
|England Player Grades|
|Alex Oxlade Chamberlain||C|
**only impactful substitutes graded
England face Moldova in September, knowing they have to win to give themselves a chance of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Scotland host Belgium on the same evening.
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