Scotland 2—1 Republic of Ireland.

At home, Scotland started as favourites and there was talk of topping the group. But Ireland had a good record here. They created most of the chances in the first half and went in at the break a goal ahead.

Scotland were outmuscled and outfought in Dublin. And the Irish were at it again. Tony Parrot had the ball in the net, but it was chopped off for offside. He also outjumped Tierney and forced a save from Craig Gordon, but he was penalised for a foul. Tierney was to go off shortly afterwards after going down in the opposition box. The Arsenal full back was replaced by his Celtic replacement, Greg Taylor. But like many of his colleagues he played too many of his passes sideways and backwards making it easy for Ireland to fall back and counter.

Scotland lost a goal in fifteen minutes, also giving the Irish defence something to hang onto. A simple corner (as in Dublin) which wasn’t defended. Lyndon Dykes did his job, winning the cross ball and heading it out. But Jayson Mulumby got in front of McGregor to win the second header. John Egan was the first to react. Spinning to put his shot in past Gordon.  

Steve Clarke’s men were outclassed by Ukraine at Hampden in their World Cup Play-off tie. They came back to make them think again and did a job on them, scored three and conceding none. The equalising goal in fifty minutes was made and finished by Jack Hendry. He played a ball wide to Taylor at the edge of the box. He nudged it on to Christie. The Bournemouth player flung it into the box. Hendry got up and headed into the corner of the goals.

Scotland were on top. McGregor got caught short on a number of occasions. He gave the ball away and Matt Doherty curled an effort wide. But Ireland’s best chance of the second-half came minutes later. McGregor lost the ball at the edge of the opposition box after a Scotland corner. Obefemi’s pace took him away from Christie, who tried to wipe him out (a certain red card had he connected) but he played in Tony Parrot. He ran in on goal, but his shot was poor and Gordon got down, parrying it away for a corner.  

Anthony Ralston and Ryan Fraser come on for Aaron Hickey, who was injured and Stuart Armstrong. That gave Scotland a lift.

Ireland made a triple substitution. It was end to end. McGregor chested down the ball at the edge of the Ireland box. His shot came off a defender and went for a corner. The ball came in and Browne flung up an arm to get in front of McTominay. Scotland players shouted for hand ball. The referee gave it and checked on VAR. Christie coolly slotted it away in the eighty-second minute.

 Kenny McLean and Che Adams replaced Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes and it was Scotland that had something to hang onto. The Bournemouth player with an assist and goal wins my man of the match. Small margins. If he’d connected with Obefemi he wouldn’t have been on the park.

Ireland tried to pressure the Scottish back line. But it was Ryan Fraser who had perhaps the best chance after McGinn had sprung the midfield and fed him with a one on one. His shot went past the post. Jack Henry got booked after the final whistle. But he wasn’t bothered. Neither were we. Rode our luck.

Scotland 3—0 Ukraine.

John McGinn scored a seventieth minute goal, and substitute Lyndon Dykes added two more headed goals from fellow substitute Ryan Fraser’s corners which were whipped into the box. Scotland were outclassed by Ukraine at Hampden 112 days ago in the World-Cup Playoff.  But it was Ukraine outclassed and outmuscled here.

Scotland went with three at the back last time. An extra man in mid-field, where they lost the battle last time. No Oleksandr Zinchenko who was out injured. He bossed the game in the last match, and made it easier for Scotland to gain a foothold. Here it was 4-4-2 for traditionalists.

And it was Scotland that created most of the chances. Nathan Patterson had to go off after twenty minutes injured. He’d set up a chance for Ryan Christie and sent a ball into the box McGinn got his head to. Aaron Hickey came on and settled in to have an equally good game. Mkyhaylo Mudryk was seen as the danger man, but after a bright start, he saw little of the ball and created even less.

 Valeriy Bondar was yellow carded ten minutes before half-time for fouling Che Adams. Steve Clarke had the touchline official’s ear. It was arguable whether he was the last man. And equally whether it was a goal-scoring opportunity. Taking out, is perhaps the right way to describe it. The tackle alone merited red.

Adams led the line well. He’d been played in by Tierney in the first-half but his shot was too near the keeper. Like Lyndon Dykes, he had two headed opportunities in less than a minute, in a second-half in which Scotland increasingly dominated. One off the top of the bar. Another saved by the keeper.

Stuart Armstrong also had a hat-trick of opportunities. And we’d have expected him to score one goal, maybe two or three. Despite his profligacy, his energy and speed complimented McGregor’s and kept the ball moving.

When Scotland needs a goal, it’s usually Clydebank man John McGinn who grabs it. He’d no right to get to the ball but he’s small and stocky. He uses his arse to roll defenders and when he did so in the box to open up space, the ball was always going to end up in the net.

Fraser and Dykes came on. Adams and Tierney off.  Steve Clarke could do no wrong. He not only invigorated the Scotland attack. He added goals. Fraser even found time to cut in and have a pop at goal himself just before the end. It was one of those nights. Scotland even goes top of the group. I know what you’re thinking. It’ll never last. We’re Scotland after all. But they’ll be days like this.  

Armenia 1—4 Scotland

Good news—we don’t have to watch Scotland until September. Stand-out player, Stuart Armstrong scores a first-half double to give Scotland a first-half lead after a shaky start. Three minutes before half-time Hovhannisyan got two yellows and therefore a red and was sent off for a shocking tackle and sticking the head on John McGinn. Just before the end of the match, David Turnbull—a long term victim of injury—was assaulted by Kamo Hovanisyan. Another red card, but the game was petering out.  It was the kind of break Scotland needed after a disastrous start in which the back three looked like it had been selected from a pub team (no jokes about me playing for pub teams). Scotland lost a goal after four minutes and it could have been more, with balls over the top and any kind of set play causing chaos.

The referee had already rejected a claim for a foul by McGregor on the edge of the Armenian box, when a simple pass forward had Grant Hanley falling on the ball and falling over, hoping for a foul. He didn’t get it. Barseghyan made a simple pass across the six-yard box for Bichakhchyan to knock the ball past Gordon on the sixth minute.

Scotland’s equaliser came eight minutes later. Che Adams hadn’t scored a goal for club or country in sixteen matches. It showed here. He tried a spectacular overhead kick. The ball landed perfectly for Armstrong who stroked it home.

Jack Hendry, who had another horror show after getting bullied in Dublin, somehow got his foot to a ball Barseghyan is just about to pass into the net after rounding Gordon. Another simple over the top ball catches out the Scotland defence. That would have put Armenia ahead after twenty minutes.

Then the Armenians had the ball in the net, but VAR ruled it offside.

Patterson had a swipe at ball at the back post, missing a good chance. The Everton reserve player perhaps wasn’t expecting the ball. After missing so many games he probably wondered what a ball was.  

The game changing moment was the sending off. With three minutes added time in the first-half, Armstrong twisted the knife with a cracker of a goal and made sure Armenia were chasing the game. His first touch took him away from his marker inside the box. His next touch set him up. He fell over but picked out the bottom corner of the net.

As you’d expect, Scotland with an extra man started on the front foot and largely controlled the game. The back three, none of whom got pass marks, where no longer under the same pressure.  

Midfielder, Gilmour, for example, at last finding space and playing in Adams. But it was captain, John McGinn, who got our third. A great take from the Clydebank man, after missing a couple of good chances in the last few matches. Taylor flung in a deep cross that missed everyone, but Patterson on the other wing. He headed back across goal. McGinn took a touch to steady himself and fired home. Ten minutes into the second half and it’s game over for Armenia.   

Three minutes later, Che Adams puts it beyond doubt and it was just a matter of how many for Scotland. The Southampton striker showed strength and guile to take a pass from his Southampton teammate. He could have played Armstrong back in, but held off his marker to fire home. He stung the keeper’s hands with another shot and made a block in the Scotland box, before he was taken off.

Scotland made substitutes as the match became like a training exercise, in which they could and perhaps should have scored more. But Craig Gordon also had to make a few saves.  A double header against Ukraine in our next two matches. Things can change quickly as Ukraine know more than most, but the Eastern Europeans, who play every tie away, look too good for the mixture of average and awful teams in their group. That includes Scotland. I don’t expect Ukraine to lose any of these ties.   

Scotland 1—3 Ukraine.

Scotland last played in the World Cup in France, 1998. The qualification campaign wasn’t a matter of life and death. It was just a game of football, which Ukraine won quite comfortably. They play Wales on Sunday to decide who goes to Qatar in November.  When there’s no football on Scotland are playing. Lyndon Dykes elbows Stepanenko on the back of the head as they go for a punted high ball, and gets a booking, sums up the first-half. Dykes doesn’t come out for the second half, which was no great loss. Ryan Christie coming on was no great gain. Only our goalkeeper got pass marks.  

Scotland played back to front, looking for knockdowns from Dykes or his strike partner, Che Adams. Ukraine went backwards to come forward and dominated possession, looking the far slicker of the two teams with one-touch football. Midway through the half, statistically, each team had four chances. An early Grant Hanley header which sailed over the bar was the pick, the other efforts troubling neither the keeper nor the Ukrainian defence.

 Georgi Bushchan, the Ukrainian keeper, was the weak link in a better drilled and better team. Ironically, he helped create two chances for Scotland, hitting the ball off McGregor and dropping a ball on John McGinnn’s head. Both in the second-half with Ukraine leading 2—0. Neither effort went into the net.  

Craig Gordon, in comparison, was easily Scotland’s man of the match. Eight minutes in and he saved a howitzer from Tsygankov from the edge of the box and tips it over. Nine minutes later he makes an even better save. Yarmolenko, from the penalty spot, escapes his marker and has got to score. Gordon’s reaction save keeps it out and he gets down to smother it. A minute later, Zinchenko gets past McTominay too easily. He plays in Tsygankov, but Gordon comes out to block and divert the ball for a corner. The Scottish defence doesn’t clear the corner but the ball is fizzed over the top of the bar.

Ukraine with almost sixty-percent possession take the lead in 28 minutes and there’s nothing Gordon can do about it. Andriy Yarmolenko gave our back three (or five) the run around. Hanley tried to play him offside, but he got beyond him and dinked the ball over Gordon.

The second-half started with the same pattern. Scotland players couldn’t get near the ball. Yarmolenko dribbles and sets up the second goal in 49 minutes. He cuts back for Karavaev. Yaremchuk towers over debutant Aaron Hickey and guides the ball into the far corner.

 Yarmolenko has a pop at goal in 52 minutes, but Gordon saves. Then he outmuscled Hanley at the corner flag. The Scotland defender falls over looking for a foul, which he doesn’t get.

Yarmolenko then dribbles past a couple of players inside the Scotland box and his cross drifts past the post. Sixty minutes, Cooper makes his mark on Yarmolenko by putting him up in the air. The Ukrainian wants a foul and a booking. He gets a shy.

Billy Gilmour, our central midfielder, passes the ball out wide and out of the park. Scotland’s best chance of getting back into the game proves to be the erratic Ukrainian keeper. He gifts Scotland a goal in 79 minutes making for a nervy ending for the Ukraine team that had been coasting. Substitute, Stuart Armstrong’s cross is partially punched clear by Bushchan, with McTominay challenging the keeper. McGregor’s shot lacks power but somehow the keeper lets it past him but hooks it out, eventually, but too late. The ball had crossed the line.

Scotland had 14 minutes to take the game to extra time. Ukraine creates three good chances where they should have scored, before scoring in the 94th minute. Man of the match, Oleksandr Zinchenko sent substitute Artem Dovbyk clear and he knocked it past Gordon. Game over. Here’s hoping Ukraine win on Sunday. A morale booster. The moral of the story here is you get what you deserve, which is nothing.  If life was that simple.

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.

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.