Scotland 3—2 Israel

Watching Scotland is a duty, rather than a pleasure. This game was the exception to the general rule that we play Israel every other game and snatch a bore draw. I’ve only ever been to Hampden once for a Scotland game. Needless to say Russia beat us. I remember ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein was in the team. That’s about it. Steve Clarke went against the grain and sent out an attacking Scottish team. Up top, he played Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes.

Lyndon Dykes missed a penalty, just before half-time to level the score at 2—2. It was identical to the penalty he scored against Austria. And anybody that watched that one winced, but we struck lucky in that qualifier.

Ex-Hibernian goalkeeper, Ofir Marciano who has a habit of making penalty saves, will mark that one down as one his granny would have caught.

Scotland were a goal down in the first five minutes. We had started well with long balls into Dykes and Adams, forcing the Israeli defence to sit in. Nir Bitton, six-foot-five, but as much chance of winning a ball in the air against any of these forwards as Julie Andrews climbing every mountain and becoming a nun in The Sound of Music. Austin MacPhee, Scotland’s new attacking coach at free-kicks, corners and throw-ins, had Tierney using a towel to dry the ball before flinging it long into the box. Inexplicably, Dykes, who you’d imagine would want to on the end of these long throw-ins, started taking throw-ins on the other side.  The Celtic defender and makeshift midfielder is good at playing simple balls beyond the Scotland midfield into the strikers.

Nathan Patterson, in for Stephen O’Donnell, was poor in the first-half, and a bit better in the second-half. He kept giving the ball away. And we’re often reminded you get punished at this level.

Solomon robbed him of the ball wide. Ex-Celt Jack Hendry brought down Zahavi twenty yards out.

PSV striker, Zahavi lifted it up and over the wall. Co-commentator, Ally McCoist, rhapsodised about what a wonderful free-kick it was, leaving our keeper, Craig Gordon, with no chance. It was a good goal, but perhaps a better keeper might have saved it.

Scotland’s equaliser was of the Robertson and Tierney variety. Just over thirty minutes gone. They held more than their own down the left, while on the right wing, Patterson and McTominay were slack in possession and turned far too easily. Robertson’s lay off at the edge of the box found John McGinn. He bent it into the top corner. This really was of the keeper having no chance school.

Israel went up the park and regained their lead in the next attack, two minutes later. This was of the Celtic school of defending. Hendry on the wrong side of the attacker. It comes off the Israeli player’s head. Gordon scoops the ball up into the air, which was poor goalkeeping. But equally, several Israeli players are ready to pounce. Dabbur from two-yard can hardly miss and pokes it home.

Scotland’s support deflated with that half-time penalty miss from twelve-yards after Billy Gilmour is brought down inside the box. In the second-half, Scotland dominated the ball, with McGregor, McGinn and Gilmour, in particular, picking the right passes.

Patterson upped his game, but went down far too easily in the Israel box after five minutes looking for another penalty and was lucky not to be booked. McGinn was booked for wiping out Soloman, after Scotland’s go-to man, lost the ball.

On the quarter-hour mark, Tierney whipped a ball into the box. Dykes gets in front of his marker and studs the ball into the net. The referee is quick to give it as a foul and book Dykes. The equaliser is chalked off. One acronym, VAR. He has a look and the goal is given. 2—2 and half-an-hour to go, Scotland in the ascendency. The question being asked by the drunk and sober was can we win it?   Being sober, I doubted it.  

Zahavi, for example, once again got in behind a static defence, only for his goal to be chopped off by VAR. VAR turned out to be our best defender, but having so much of the ball we limited their chances.

Patterson, for example, did what he was brought into the team to do and attacked their defence and got to the bye-line. Adams was waiting for his cut back at the back post. He remained waiting.

Then Dykes, who could easily have had a hat-trick, had one of those balls he’s got to score from. That’s co-commentator, Ally McCoist’s words, not mine. Tierney pinged it in, the QPR strike is above his marker with enough pace from the ball for him to guide it into the net. He headed it straight at Marciano.

John McGinn, who scored a wonder goal, missed what for him would have been even more of a sitter. Ryan Christie, who came on for Adams, picked him out. From ten-yards he can’t find the net.

That looks about it. Six-minutes added time—Fergie time, and he was in attendance, in the stands, giving conspiracy theorist some slack to play with—and Manchester United player McTominay ghosts in at the back post to chest the ball home from a Jack Hendry flick on. I rarely enjoy a Scotland game. The last time Leigh Griffiths scored two late free kicks against England and Celtic keeper, Joe Hart. There was still enough time for England to grab a draw. Here there wasn’t. Great game. Great win. (Whisper it, terrible defending).

Can we beat the Faroes? Can we finish second in this group? Only if we go back to being boring old Scotland and dragging things out to our opponents concede. Safe to say, Dykes will no longer be taking Scotland penalties or Stephen Clarke’s an Englishman. Cue the QPR striker stepping up in our next match? Possibly.

Scotland 1—3 Croatia

One word—Modric. After the highs of Wembley, the lows of Hampden Park. Scotland sweated the loss of youngster Billy Gilmour. He does have a Champions League winner’s medal, but he was an unused substitute for Chelsea. Ballon d’Or winner, Luka Modric, aged 35, has four almost on the bounce with Real Madrid. He was back to his best, and scored a sublime second goal with the outside of his boot to put the Croatians ahead at the start of the second half. From a corner, he put the ball on Ivan Perisic’s head. The former Barcelona player easily outjumped Tierney to effectively finish the game, and the contest, after 77 minutes. If it was a boxing match, the Argentinian ref would have stopped it. But we toiled on until he blew his whistle.

Croatia had almost eighty-percent of the ball in the first-half. But the opening goal from Nikola Vlasic after 17 minutes was your basic, made in Scotland, effort. A ball to the back post, knockdown and we’re one down.  Briefly, we were back in it. Just before half-time, Callum McGregor did a Modric. He’s on the edge of the box and the ball falls to him. He guides it past the Croatian keeper and into the far corner.

More than we deserved, but we took it and believed the second-half could be so, so different. It was—they scored more goals. But it was also the same. They kept the ball better and made us look amateurish. Three games played, Scotland have scored one goal (which to be honest, I didn’t see coming) and conceded five. We’ve been sent homeward to think again. No shame in getting beaten by the better team, but it still hurts. Next time—we’ll win it.

England 0—0 Scotland.

Scotland fans celebrated this 0—0 draw like Rangers’ fans invading George Square and mistaking it for the centre of Manchester, where they went on the rampage a few years ago. I got into the spirit by being late into the Albion, drowning my sorrows before I was sorry, and having to play catch-up by downing a pint in a oner (well kinda). It’s thirsty work hating the English. Before the game, we thought Steve Clarke had got the team selection wrong. No Rangers players, the Scottish Champions in a Scottish team. O’Donnell, who I admit has a suspiciously Irish Catholic tang to it, was playing (not that one), the diddy that plays for Motherwell, but played for Clarke at Kilmarnock.  My argument was O’Donnell was good at taking shys. It’s not much, but Steve Clarke’s cunning plan was to revert to type and turn Scotland into Kilmarnock. Go long and defend in numbers. It worked great.

Lyndon Dykes won every high ball. In the first few minutes, he and Che Adams was making the English backline nervous by being in their faces. We were on top. Inexplicably, we had the kind of defending that has marked Celtic’s season. At a corner John Stones was left a free header—it bounced off the post.

European Cup winner Mason Mount also slashed across goal after being played in by Raheem Sterling. The ball being given to the European Cup loser by Scott McTominay, who temporarily forgot he was a Scot. He flapped a bit after that mistake, but then upped his game to Kilmarnock levels.

That was about it for England. Harry Kane didn’t feature before getting subbed late on. Phil Foden, touted, and rightly so, as one of the most exciting talents in world football, was outshone by the likes Billy Gilmour (even though he’s an ex-Hun—I’m sure glad he’s at Chelsea and not Rangers).

Even the diddy O’Donnell had us lapping up his performance. He almost scored from a Kieran Tierney cross in the first half. The England keeper Pickford got a block, but the ball went up in the air and it looked as if Che Adams might header it in—but he didn’t.

England dominated the early period of the second-half, and this was the way many of us believed the game would pan out. But Scotland held firm and didn’t look to concede and slowly, like Manchester City in the European final, they began to run out of routes to goal. Dykes shot at goal had us all on our feet (that’s the kind of lie short-sighted people use who can’t see their feet) when he beat the England keeper. But somehow Chelsea defender James got a heel onto the ball and kept it from going over the line. Bastard.

Scotland didn’t exactly pile forward, but we grew more comfortable, and dangerous when getting forward. Adams had a chance to hit the stand or goal, and being an Englishman in a Scottish jersey, he opted for the former. (He did have a good game, although Dykes, with lesser ability was more effective.) No one is the Scottish shirt let us down. Our fans celebrated at the end. And we tried to work out how (a) to get home and what pub was still open (b) how we can just mix out on the qualifying rounds by losing a late goal, or getting a draw when we needed victory. The kind of glorious victory in defeat Scotland as excelled at over the years. It’s been a long time since we went down to Wembley and ripped up the turf and ate it, just to show how tough we were. C’mon Scotland—but don’t expect too much.