Scotland manager Gordon Strachan described last night’s goalless friendly draw with the United States as further evidence that his side are going in the right direction.
Scotland started an extended programme of friendlies ahead of next year’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign with a 0-0 draw that saw Dundee United winger Gary Mackay-Steven and 32-year-old Brighton & Hove Albion defender Gordon Greer make their international debuts.
But it was not a game for the ages as Scotland bade a temporary farewell to the national stadium ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Strachan praised his team for a battling performance against the physically-superior Americans, who had won 15 of their previous 16 matches and drawn the other. However, the Scotland manager lamented the lack of a killer touch in front of goal and admitted his side had to improve their build-up play just outside the box.
“It is easier to coach how not to lose goals than it is to score goals,” he said. “We have to work at winning games.”
Scotland were frustrated in their attempt to win a third successive match for the first time since 2007. Hampden itself played its part in the 0-0 draw before it is recommissioned for athletics.
Surprise starter Craig Conway was presented with Scotland’s best chance to score ten minutes before half-time but scuffed his shot wide of the post after a good move across the park. The Brighton & Hove Albion player later blamed the pitch.
“It was a good chance,” admitted Strachan. “With us it has to be spot on – three, four, five, six passes just to get through. We need to work at everything we get and it was unfortunate that Craig said it took a wee bobble just before it got to him.”
While admitting it had been far from entertaining for the supporters in the 21,079 crowd, Strachan believed the outing was a constructive one. “It reaffirmed one or two things, the good and the negative,” he said. “So that was handy. It cleared the mind. It was a worthwhile exercise. It was not a great game, that is for sure. It was two teams who knew how to stop each other playing.
“I think if we are to beat teams of that physical size we have to be good at passing on the edge of the box, 30 yards out. If we get that we will beat teams. It was like a basketball game tonight, everyone playing the same position, one v one. We had some good wins in head to heads.
“I would love to have won tonight but I thought the draw was the fair result. To win games we need to be really sharp 30 yards out. But that will come.”
Strachan applauded the Celtic pairing in central midfielder of Charles Mulgrew and skipper Scott Brown, with the former in particular showing great enthusiasm to remain on the park after taking a heavy knock in the second half. “I think good players get lost in enjoying games,” he said. “They don’t think ahead. Once you are involved you lose yourself. He did very well, especially in the last 20 minutes when we played with an old-fashioned front four, which is a bit much for just the two midfielders.”
Told that United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann had been complimentary about his side, Strachan quipped: “He is a mate of mine, I played against him. We swapped shirts years ago.”
The former Germany international said Scotland had improved beyond recognition since the 5-1 defeat inflicted on Craig Levein’s men by his side in Florida 18 months ago.
Since then Scotland have beaten Croatia twice and climbed up to 35th place in the rankings. The United States are currently placed 13.
“You can clearly see the Scottish side is on its way up,” said Klinsmann. “They confirmed what we have seen already in the last couple of months. They are a team that can hurt you at any moment.
“They have good players, good individuals and have a certain presence on the field. They were ready for the fight and I think overall a draw was a fair result.
“There’s no comparison between that team and the one that lost 5-1, but we already knew that. We don’t even need to talk about that game. It’s a different side. They are compact and focused. They have got the message. They have a point to prove – you could sense from the beginning of the match that they are a team building towards Euro 2016. They were not holding back.
“They have got the message from Gordon, they are building towards the 2016 qualifiers and you could sense that tonight.
“Thanks for having us here, it’s been cool,” he added, before heading off for the United States’ next appointment, against Austria next week.
Debutant Greer hailed the realising of a life-long dream after playing – and keeping a clean sheet – in an international at Hampden.
“It was worth every minute,” said the 32-year-old defender. “It seemed harder than I thought and I’m tired, but it was a great performance.
“It was a good clean sheet for the defence. It was very worthwhile.
“For myself, to get a cap after all this time, is a dream come true.”
Goalkeeper David Marshall was also delighted to have kept the Americans at bay and will have a spring in his step ahead of Tuesday’s game in Norway.
“It was a good performance against a decent side,” said the Cardiff City man. “The way we played tonight, I think it showed we are going in the right direction. I have not had many opportunities in recent years and I will be happy to play in Norway again.”
Emphasising the positives but acknowledging the work he has to do, Strachan added: “We learned a lot of things – we’re progressing. They are a strong, physical unit and Gordon Greer did well. It wasn’t a bad result, a lot of players can go away thinking ‘that was good’. But our passing has to be better.”