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.

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.