SCOTLAND’S reawakening as an international side of worth continued with a draw against Poland on a memorable night in Warsaw.
Scorers: Poland - Maczynski (11), Milik (76); Scotland - Maloney (18) Naismith (57)
There was a special energy inside the ground just four days after Poland’s historic maiden victory over Germany. Scotland were pitched into a euphoric bearpit of a stadium. The roof was open. The heat was on. Poland are ranked more than 40 places below Scotland, but this was a test of the visitors’ mettle, make no mistake. It was one they passed with distinction.
After the teams exchanged goals through Krzysztof Maczynski and Shaun Maloney in the first half, Scotland edged ahead through Steven Naismith 12 minutes after half-time. But their hopes of a victory that would again change the landscape of Group D were dashed when Arkadiusz Milik equalised with 14 minutes remaining.
Still, Scotland emerged with the point that many felt they would need if they are to maintain their challenge for second spot in the group, particularly given the news of the Republic of Ireland’s 1-1 draw in Germany.
Scotland opened with a spell of possession that frustrated the 50,000 or so Poles who were intending to continue the celebrations following Saturday’s victory over the world champions. This sense of Scotland having spoiled the party was evident at the end as crestfallen home supporters exited the stadium.
Gordon Strachan made two changes to the side that had defeated Georgia on Saturday. While the manager had already alerted reporters to one of them, Gordon Greer replacing the injured Grant Hanley, it was the second alteration from Saturday’s XI that raised eyebrows. Ikechi Anya’s sore calf healed sufficiently for him to take part – and just as well, events proved.
It was behind him where the other change was made. Steven Whittaker was drafted in to win his 26th cap at the expense of Andy Robertson, reckoned by many to be one of Scotland’s top performers in the win over Georgia.
While it was at full-back where Scotland were exposed for Poland’s opener, the fault lay on the opposite side of the pitch. Whittaker, indeed, had started well and his contribution included a goal-saving block from Robert Lewandowski.
It was the normally reliable Alan Hutton who was made to suffer for a terrible lapse in concentration as Poland grew into a more threatening force than had been obvious in the opening minutes. The visitors had won the first corner of the game after five minutes – one that was criminally wasted by Maloney, who failed to beat the first man. That might have seemed trivial at the time but on a night of such high intensity, such carelessness was likely to prove unhelpful. Indeed, it was also symptomatic of an opening period in which Scotland’s initial confidence seemed to wane briefly before then being restored in quite thrilling manner.
Greer was fortunate to escape being punished for a high-footed challenge on Lewandowski. The striker left the pitch for further treatment and while they were down to ten men Poland made the breakthrough after 12 minutes.
With Lewandowski still on the sidelines, Scotland should have made the most of an opportunity to get their breath back. Instead, Hutton inadvertently directed the ball into Maczynski’s path when trying to deal with a through ball. The midfielder did not need to be asked twice and side-footed a shot that hit the post before nestling in Marshall’s net. Having paid specific attention to his defence, it was a ghastly error for Strachan to have to witness.
Credit to Scotland, they were rocked only briefly. Within six minutes they had drawn level with another goal that joins Anya’s versus Germany in the pantheon of delicious Scotland strikes. As with Anya’s goal in Dortmund, the architect of the move was Steven Fletcher. Again he swivelled in midfield and found the Watford winger, who deftly brought the ball down before laying it back for Maloney, who had taken up a good position ten yards from goal. He opened up his body and side-footed into the net past Wojciech Szczesny. This was a response of the highest quality following Hutton’s schoolboy error.
It was proving a rousing contest, one that was deserving of such a special stage. The Polish fans sought to lift their side and Scotland endured a torrid spell at the start of the second half. But they steadied themselves, and then, remarkably, edged ahead after 57 minutes.
The excellent James Morrison distinguished himself yet again with a free kick that was inch-perfect for Naismith, the striker whose performance up to this point was patchy. But he redeemed himself in style by sliding in at the back post to convert. Again, we heard the sound of eerie silence save for a muffled roar from more than 4,000 Scotland fans perched in the top tier.
Strachan brought on Chris Martin for Naismith in the 70th minute, while also replacing Steven Fletcher with his namesake Darren. A minute later Scotland almost extended their lead with Szczesny forced to tip a Maloney effort over the bar.
But it was around the Scotland goal that most of the play took place between then and the end. Full-back Artur Jedrzejczyk played a neat ball inside Hutton, and from an unpromising angle Milik sent an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net.
In an intense finale, Marshall tipped a Lewandowski effort past the post and then Milik’s shot struck the post, after he had rounded the Scotland goalkeeper. The visitors hung on.
Poland: Szczesny, Piszczek, Szukala, Glik, Jedrzejczyk, Grosicki (Zyro 89), Maczynski, Krychowiak, Sobota (Mila 63), Lewandowski, Milik. Subs not used: Boruc, Cionek, Wojtkowiak, Teodorczyk, Rybus, Wawrzyniak, Olkowski, Starzynski, Kucharczyk, Fabianski.
Scotland: Marshall, Hutton, R Martin, Greer, Whittaker, Maloney, Morrison, Brown, Anya, S Fletcher (D Fletcher 70), Naismith (C Martin 70). Subs not used: Gordon, Berra, Bryson, Forsyth, Bannan, McArthur, Burke, Robertson, May, Gilks.