In the event Paul Scholes' weekend brace in Glasgow was just enough to deny, on aggregate, a Scottish team who gave themselves hope with Don Hutchison's 39th-minute header but could not quite draw level. They are left with the substantial consolation of their first Wembley victory since 1981 and first over the Auld Enemy anywhere for 14 years.
Kevin Keegan, who suffered his first defeat as England manager, can now look ahead to the draw for the European Championship finals in Brussels on 12 December. He, and his players, can now be under no illusions as to the improvement required if they are to prosper when they get there.
Scotland must wait until the World Cup qualifiers for their next meaningful match but, while there will be much debate on the position of Craig Brown, this performance could well ensure he remains national coach, if he wants to.
Last night he forsook some of the caution of Saturday when he had seemed reluctant to attack an England side that had retreated into defence. Three changes were made, two of personnel, one enforced, all tactical. The suspended striker, Kevin Gallacher, was replaced by Neil McCann, a winger; at left wing-back Paul Ritchie was omitted in favour of the more adventurous Callum Davidson; and Hutchison was pushed forward.
McCann added width on the left, Hutchison presence to the attack. The result was a more penetrative performance with the goal, for which the pair combined, one of several good chances created by the visitors.
By contrast England were again unbalanced in midfield though Jamie Redknapp did as well as any right-footer has in the problem left flank position. Keegan's changes during the game - or lack of them - did not help while the defence, which lacked the injured Martin Keown, was worryingly porous.
England, though they had promising moments, were never in control. On a night cold enough to question the sanity of wearing a kilt, especially if they had earlier been for a paddle in Trafalgar Square, they did not seem to know whether to raise the temperature or lower it.
They began well enough, creating three early half-chances. After two minutes Sol Campbell burst through a pair of challenges on the right and crossed only for Alan Shearer to skew his shot. Then Owen wasted a good crossing opportunity by preferring to use his right foot before Scholes, seizing on a poor clearance by Colin Hendry, drilled a shot just past the post from 20 yards.
This start proved misleading as Scotland began to find gaps. Twice in as many minutes they should have tested David Seaman in the England goal: Billy Dodds and Hutchison set up McCann only for the youngster to stumble on the ball; then Barry Ferguson, left unchallenged by Scholes, headed over from Davidson's cross.
A series of scrambles around the English box increased the visitors' confidence and further unnerved the home side as Wembley, apart from the Scottish corner, grew silent. With John Collins and Dodds also going close it was no surprise when, six minutes before the break, Hutchison finally scored the Scots' first goal against England for 13 years.
It came from a Christian Dailly pass, slid down the left towards McCann. Campbell went to intercept it but failed, which left McCann with time and space to cross. He took it, picking out Hutchison who rose above Adams to head past a static Seaman.
England wobbled, with Ince booked for a lunging tackle on McCann, and half-time was gratefully received. It was not usefully spent though. There was a good argument for bringing on Andy Cole for Owen and perhaps Steve Guppy to provide balance on the left but Keegan sent them back unchanged.
Seven minutes later such carping might have been nullified as Hendry, attempting to cut out a Beckham pass, inadvertently released Shearer. However, he blazed over.
The match became end-to-end. Dodds, after clever work by McCann, brought a save out of Seaman then Owen, after a fine run by Ince, was halted in front of goal by an excellent tackle by Collins.
It was the Liverpool striker's final act. Keegan now took him off but brought on, not Cole, but Emile Heskey, a player with just 16 minutes' international experience. Two big strikers but still no winger. Heskey did hold the ball up, which was sorely needed, but England remained unbalanced.
Redknapp and Dailly were booked for a fierce exchange of tackles but, briefly, the game lulled. Was it the eye of the Scottish storm, or had they blown themselves out? With quarter-of-an-hour left Brown sent on Mark Burchill to revive the tempest and, within minutes, Hutchison had caused English hearts to flutter with a free-kick Seaman gathered at the second attempt. Beckham's response sent Scottish nerves jangling as his free-kick whistled past Neil Sullivan's post.
Into the last 10 minutes and Adams, with a beautifully-judged tackle on Dodds, halted another Scottish advance then, from the resultant corner, Seaman parried Dailly's point-blank header. The tension rose again but, to English relief, that proved to be the final Scottish sally.
ENGLAND (4-4-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Campbell (Tottenham), Southgate (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal), P Neville (Manchester United); Beckham (Manchester United), Ince (Middlesbrough), Scholes (Manchester United), Redknapp (Liverpool); Owen (Liverpool), Shearer (Newcastle). Substitutes used: Cole (Manchester United) for Owen, 63; Parlour (Arsenal) for Scholes, 89.
SCOTLAND (3-4-3): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Weir (Everton), Hendry (Rangers), Dailly (Blackburn Rovers); Burley (Celtic), Ferguson (Rangers), Collins (Everton), Davidson (Blackburn Rovers); Dodds (Dundee United), Hutchison (Everton), McCann (Rangers). Substitute used: Burchill (Celtic) for McCann, 74.
Referee: P Collina (Italy).
Richard Williams, page 30