THE inquest will be brief, for Scotland have a game on Tuesday, but really, what is there left to say or do other than to prepare for the debate about a change of manager at Hampden and worship at the altar of Gareth Bale.
Before the post-mortem we should acknowledge that we saw a world-class player here last night, a world-class player who stood out like a beacon on a foul evening, who manufactured a penalty and scored it to bring his side level and who then launched the winner, a most outrageous shot from a position somewhere near Newport after Scotland, most notably Charlie Adam, failed to close him down at a free-kick.
A shocking defensive lapse was punished in full. Bale’s shot flew into the top left hand corner of Allan McGregor’s net, a veritable danger in the heart of Craig Levein. For Levein, it’s got to be over. A defeat might have been cruel, but a draw was the most they deserved and a draw wasn’t good enough either. The victory was everything. Without it, Scotland have nothing. The push for Brazil is finished.
The irony is that Scotland created more chances in this game than they did in their previous two. They were brave both in selection and in the way they went after the game, knowing that with their adventure came risk. They had a pile of opportunities and little luck. Steven Fletcher had a goal disallowed wrongly. Another shocking kick in the nether regions of this team.
Scotland came to play, but Wales created as many chances on the night and when Bale equalised from the spot it was only what their pressure demanded. The late twist was stunning, but then we should not be surprised by anything Bale does on a football field. The guy is a freak of nature. Adam should have known that.
Such a nightmare for Scotland from such promising beginnings. There was a touch of the Bobby Ewing about the early part of the night, a footballing version of the Dallas oilman breezily bidding the lovely Pammy good morning after he was supposed to have been dead for a year. For Bobby read Fletcher and Kris Commons, back in the colours of their country as if the spats of before were just a dream sequence.
So, at last, Scotland had a team on the park that few could have found fault with – a first in the Levein era. There was Brown (but only for 45 minutes until his hip flared up again) and Darren Fletcher as the two holders in midfield, there was Shaun Maloney out on the left, Commons out on the right, James Morrison up the middle and Fletcher up top. Good players, all in form.
For all the talk of the prodigals, there are not many more important players to Scotland than Morrison. The real Morrison, that is. Not the Morrison of Serbia and Macedonia. No, the Morrison of West Brom. The Morrison who has as many goals and assists for his club in the Premiership this season as the celebrated Bale and the magnificent Santi Cazorla of Arsenal and who has more goals and assists for his club than David Silva of Manchester City, a player who, on his day, is a dangerous individual indeed.
And so it proved again in promising of the early and now distant minutes. Just before the half-hour the dynamic of this game shifted for the first time. Up until then, Scotland were setting the tempo but all the danger was being supplied by Wales, most of it coming through Aaron Ramsey and Bale, the thoroughbred of Cardiff, the Frankel of footballers.
Before Morrison scored, there had been three noteworthy moments in the match, the first coming when Bale whipped a shot on Allan McGregor’s goal that flew narrowly wide, the second when Commons gave the ball away allowing Ramsey and then Joe Allen to send the visitor’s defence into a state of apoplexy before the danger was averted and the third when Bale did his thoroughbred thing again, speeding past Danny Fox like he was some kind of training cone before curling a beautiful cross to the back post, whereupon the sixty second tale of two Mor(r)isons played out.
Steve Morison is a Norwich City striker with two goals in his last 23 games for his club, a player who maybe once gobbled up chances like the one Bale was about to present him with, but who does no longer. On the end of an inch-perfect cross with time and space, Morison missed the target. As the Norwich player was still bemoaning his profligacy, his namesake gave him a lesson in how to finish. Long punt, flick-on from Steven Fletcher, goal. If only it was always so simple. If only it stayed like that.
The night was now at a crossroads. Wales, beaten up by Serbia, seemingly unsure about their manager and now behind in front of their own people, could have imploded or they could have fought. They chose the latter. It was frenetic stuff. Truly frenetic. Chance after chance at both ends. A succession of penalty claims by the Welsh, at least one a convincing claim. Goal-mouth melees. A disallowed goal for Steven Fletcher that should never have been disallowed. Joe Jordan and karma and all that.
Thunder and fury and angst galore. And Bale. Lots and lots of Bale. The head went this way and that, this way and that. Fletcher had a chance but the ball got trapped under his feet then Ramsey had a chance, then Morrison had a chance and then Morrison again, a beauty, a potential game-clincher beaten away by Lewis Price in the Wales goal. Lord, how significant that moment was.
Wales drove on and with every surge and with ever moment of danger they created there was this sense of foreboding for Scotland, this feeling that Bale was going to create something, that it was destined to be, preordained. Ten minutes from the end, Bale took a tumble in the box and Maloney got collared for it. After failed appeals earlier this time the award went the way of the Welsh. Standing over it, you just knew what was going to happen next. You just didn’t expect the moment of wretched absent-mindedness from Adam and the genius that followed.
Bale sparked the beginning of the celebrations and surely the end of something, too. It’ll be a slow trudge to Brussels now.