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'It's coming' - Billy Gilmour aiming to end a 91-game Scotland and club wait as England descend on Hampden

A goal is now the goal after Billy Gilmour appears to have established himself as a midfield mainstay for Scotland and Brighton. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
A goal is now the goal after Billy Gilmour appears to have established himself as a midfield mainstay for Scotland and Brighton. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Yet the artful Ardrossan midfelder’s career undeniably has a St George’s cross imprimatur. The 22-year-old has only played senior football south of the border, having left Rangers for Chelsea as a 15-year-old wunderkind. Right now, the playmaker is one of the most gushed over performers in the English Premier League following his thrilling start to this season in a recast engine room as soon-to-be-European debutants Brighton look on track to scale new heights. And then there is even his Scotland career. Gilmour, of course, exploded on to that scene at no less than Wembley against England, as he turned in a performance of such maturity and craft in a first start for his country at the delayed Euro 2020 group encounter in June 2021. A display of such finesse ranged against Declan Rice, then Stamford Bridge team-mate Mason Mount and Kalvin Philips, it was Gilmour’s on everyone’s lips after the goalless draw, not a trio who have since commanded £215million in transfer fees.

Two years on, he will take to the pitch against them in Tuesday’s friendly as an equal, not pretender. Well, in all but one front. All the aforementioned have goals for their country. Gilmour has not only failed to strike in that arena, he hasn’t netted in 91 senior outings – 19 of these in Scotland colours. That then presents a delicious potential set-up for the latest skirmish with the Auld Enemy. In his anglicised world, it would just seem so perfect if he could break his duck at the footballing home of his nation against England, where all points have led in his game travels.

Gilmour doesn’t discount the possibility. Not after coming close with a piledriver that led to Brighton’s first goal – and the first of Ewan Ferguson’s hat-trick – in their 3-1 victory over Newcastle United last weekend. Keeper Nick Pope only able to awkwardly block Gilmour’s effort, which allowed the Irishman to pounce. “It’s coming,” the Scotland midfielder said of a first goal. “Two weeks ago against West Ham I came off the pitch and my dad said: ‘How many times? Do you want to just take a chance and shoot!’ So going into the game against Newcastle the first time the ball was bouncing I checked back and thought ‘I just need to shoot here’. [At least] It ended up in an assist.”

Gilmour recognises he has to summon up his inner young boy, a time when the array of talents the pint-sized performer was displaying in youth football in the Scottish scene led to him being regarded as a cert to make to the very top of the game. “It used to be my trademark when I was growing up, edge of the box, hitting it first time, and it would go in. But then I’ve been in first team football and I’ve just never done that. I hope I can change that.”

Everything has changed for Gilmour since that night at Wembley. An experience which he was wide-eyed over to reflect the different stage of his development he was then in – even if it came little more than three weeks after he earned a Champions League winners’ medal as an unused sub in Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Manchester City. “I didn’t think I’d play,” he said. “I got called up and was just buzzing to be a part of it. To be around this squad for the first time it was exciting. The whole thing of Scotland being back at a major tournament was a great feeling just to be called up. But to be on the pitch against England and what happened that night was surreal. I was a bit nervous going into the game. I hadn’t expected to be in right from the start. So when I got the heads up I was starting that was me trying my best to calm the nerves. But when I got on the pitch it was more excitement. Of course when you start playing the first couple of nice passes it settles you right down into the game and you enjoy it. It was a big night for me and my family.”

It was expected to be a gateway for such major moments to pile up quickly for Gilmour, but that didn’t happen. A torrid time on loan with Norwich City gave way to a £7m move to Brighton that seemed inopportune when manager Graham Potter soon after took the opposite route. His replacement Roberto de Zerbi seemed cool on Gilmour’s capabilities, until he wasn’t. A period that took until April this year. The Italian gave Gilmour his head, and the reward came in word filtering out that the game intelligence and physical robustness the midfielder was able to show left Brighton relaxed about the inevitable moneyball trading. A total of £150m pocketed for central pair Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. The former sold to for Chelsea for £115m to Chelsea with the Argentinian World Cup winner commanding a £35m fee from Liverpool.

Gilmour’s form has meant neither appeared to have been missed by the south coast club with De Zerbi admitting that he made a mistake in failing to utilise the Scot more last season. Not that the player agrees his manager appeared to be a man who was hard for him to please. “It was a nice feeling when he said that [about playing me],” Gilmour said. “I played the majority of games towards the end of the season and I have been involved in every one so far this season. All I want to do is play football and enjoy it. He has given me confidence going into every game and he trusts me. I think hard work in training and having a bit of self-confidence [has worked for me]. It was also about waiting to get an opportunity that came. After that I knew it was a big season when I came back after the summer.”