Gordon Strachan praised his side’s battling qualities last night after his first year as Scotland manager ended with what even he admitted was an undeserved 1-0 victory in Norway.
Scott Brown’s 61st-minute goal separated the teams on a freezing night in Molde. Snow had fallen throughout the day and the difficult conditions were handled with rather more aplomb by Norway, although they lacked a cutting edge. Scotland scored with their only shot of note on goal and can now reflect on a year of undoubted improvement.
The victory was Scotland’s fifth under Strachan in the manager’s tenth game since taking over in January. This win was further evidence that Scotland have become awkward opponents again – although Strachan could not claim to have been encouraged by last night’s performance.
A poor start saw him quickly change tactics after Scotland had lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. He quickly discovered that this was leaving the players too isolated against the pacy Norwegians and the manager reverted to a four-man midfield.
“I think Norway were the better team,” conceded Strachan, who described Scotland’s opponents as “refreshingly old fashioned” in their commitment to attack.
The evening was only soured by another brief act of ill-discipline by the matchwinner. Brown appeared to take the battling theme to an extreme when aiming a kick at Norwegian centre half Vegard Forren in the first half. However, he escaped without punishment, and Strachan later claimed he had not seen an incident that evoked memories of the player’s red card after a similarly rash incident while playing for Celtic against Barcelona in the Champions League earlier this season.
Brown received a red card on that occasion. Here, he was allowed to continue and provide the game’s significant moment.
Norway tested Scotland by playing with two strikers and piling pressure on the defence. However, slack finishing, combined with excellent goalkeeping by David Marshall meant Scotland had a chance to secure a result, providing they could make a breakthrough.
Marshall made several good blocks and enjoyed a more positive night in Norway than when he last appeared here for Scotland in a 4-0 defeat in 2009.
Scotland have now kept three consecutive clean sheets for the first time in six years although they lived dangerously last night. Strachan admitted: “They spooked us a bit. Because Norway were so good at getting us going back the way, we couldn’t get going with the system we wanted to play. But we will try it again some other time because I do believe it can work.
“At the moment, though, the system we fall back on seems to be more reliant.
“But any system doesn’t work if you can’t pass the ball to each other. We couldn’t do that well because we got isolated from each other.
“There weren’t groups of three or four lads together – it was two maximum. That isn’t something that’s happened to us before and, on a pitch like that, you have to be close together. We will learn lessons from that.”
“David Marshall was terrific,” added Strachan. “None of us played that great after that. It was just a combination of brave defending, good goalkeeping and unfortunate finishing from the Norwegian side. I thought they were better all-round.
“They were close to each other and that is what you need, even on a good pitch. We never had that at any time.
“We played too flat up front but we’ll learn.
“I wouldn’t have liked to see David do that much. He had a
couple of great saves. But the lads all seem happy within the group and working together. They dug out a result even though it wasn’t going for them.
“I didn’t really enjoy it as a spectacle from my point of view, but I have enjoyed working with the group throughout the week.
“That is why we tried to get everyone who started the week something to take back from it – a cap. They all deserve that
because they are all hard-working, even though they all haven’t played a lot of minutes.
“I enjoyed James McArthur when he came on. I thought Barry Bannan and Craig Conway also did well when they came on. It was a wee bonus that the substitutes made us better.
“There was a lot of workrate, but that was maybe down to
desperation. We had to work that hard, because of us being too far apart and good play from the Norwegians. They had a lot of good players out there.”
Brown didn’t discuss his kick at Forren but conceded afterwards that his goal was the result of a slice of luck. “It was one of those ones – I just hit it and hoped,” said the captain.
“It was a deflection but it went into the back of the net and that’s all that matters.”
Brown added: “The lads fought and battled all the way. We didn’t play at our best – we know that – but we got the result and that’s what we came for.
“It was soft and soggy and we couldn’t pass the ball as well. Fair play, they tried to pass the ball about as well and we gave as good as we got. We got a wee bit of luck with the deflection.”