HE was once deemed surplus to requirements by Gordon Strachan but last night Charlie Mulgrew was the crucial ingredient in a winning start for the new Scotland manager.
Scorers: Scotland - Mulgrew (39)
Bookings: Scotland - Webster; Estonia - Morozov, Kink
Mulgrew’s first goal for his country, a smartly taken effort six minutes before half-time, proved enough to see off an obdurate but limited Estonian side as the Scots delivered a solid but less than spectacular display to herald Strachan’s tenure.
Goalscorer Mulgrew, who was offloaded to Wolves by Strachan when he was in charge of Celtic, was one of the most effective performers for the home side on a heavy Pittodrie pitch
which mitigated against fluent football.
Strachan would also have taken encouragement from the first-half display of recalled winger Chris Burke who added some dynamism to the side.
Effecting a dramatic improvement in Scotland’s fortunes remains a daunting assignment for Strachan but this was at
least a positive first step in the right direction ahead of next month’s 2014 World Cup qualifying ties against Wales and
The twin-pronged strike force of Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes which many of the Tartan Army had hoped to see start the match was rejected by Strachan. Instead, Fletcher was deployed as the sole out-and-out striker while Rhodes began the evening on a heavily populated substitutes’ bench.
But Strachan’s selection and system could hardly be described as negative, with Chris Burke, Shaun Maloney and
Steven Naismith forming a
trio of advanced midfielders who pushed forward at every opportunity in support of Fletcher.
Burke’s inclusion in the starting line-up, ahead of both Kris Commons and Robert Snodgrass who were among the replacements, was a clear indication of how highly Strachan regards the Birmingham City winger who was making his first appearance for his country since making his breakthrough almost seven years ago.
He was prominent in a reasonably bright and energetic start to the match by the Scots, using his pace and directness to good effect down the right flank.Burke earned the corner kick which gave the home side their first sight of goal after just three minutes. Estonian goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko could only punch Mulgrew’s set piece to Naismith at the edge of the penalty area, the Everton forward nodding the ball back to Maloney on the corner of the six-yard box. Maloney turned smartly to fire in a left-foot shot which Pareiko managed to divert wide of his right-hand post.
Burke, who was earning the approval of the Scotland support, then surged into the penalty area and when his shot was blocked, he fed the ball back into the path of Charlie Adam, whose low effort was deflected wide.
Scotland, with Adam and captain Scott Brown in the holding midfield roles, were dominating possession but Estonia carried a threat on the counter-attack to ensure Allan McGregor was far from under-employed in the home goal.
The goalkeeper reacted well when he stretched to make a fine one-handed save to keep out a dipping long-range shot from Estonian left-back Taijo Teniste who had led a rapid raid by the visitors.
Scotland quickly got back on to the front foot with most of the action taking place in the
Estonian half. Alan Hutton linked up well with his former Rangers team-mate Burke in the 20th minute, clipping a clever pass over the Estonian defence to set the winger free. Burke showed good control before sending over a cross which Fletcher rose to head narrowly over.
Maloney, given licence to roam in the space behind
Fletcher, then forced Pareiko into action again when he worked his way into space on the edge of the penalty area and saw his shot saved low to the goalkeeper’s left.
There was a hint of frustration creeping into Scotland’s play as the breakthrough continued to elude them and McGregor was required to be at his alert best to prevent Estonia plundering the lead in the 31st minute.
Konstantin Vassilijev, the most eye-catching of the Estonian team in terms of technical ability, caught out the Scottish defence with a clever lofted pass which sent Tarmo Kink free on goal. The forward, who played for Strachan at Middlesbrough, looked a good bet to score, but he was denied by McGregor’s sharp
advance from his line and excellent blocking save.
Scotland responded well to that scare and went in front six minutes before the interval with a well executed set piece which had evidently been worked out on the training ground. Maloney earned the set piece when
he was crudely fouled by Igor Morozov just outside the left edge of the Estonian penalty area. Adam shaped up as if to cross the ball into the six-yard box but instead slid it low
into the path of Mulgrew, who beat Pareiko with a firm first-time shot from around ten yards.
Strachan made two half-time substitutions, Burke and Maloney replaced by Snodgrass and Rhodes in the first of a
series of changes by the manager as he took the opportunity to
assess as many of his squad as possible.
Snodgrass almost made
an immediate impact, the Norwich City man bursting into the
penalty area to get on the end of a Naismith pass but he was
unable to collect cleanly with a shot which was comfortably saved by Pareiko.
The introduction of Rhodes was warmly welcomed by the home fans, the prolific striker taking up the most advanced forward position as Fletcher dropped a little deeper.
It did not take Rhodes long
to display his shoot-on-sight policy, turning on the 18-yard line and threatening with a sweetly struck effort which flew narrowly over the crossbar.
James McArthur, James Morrison, Kenny Miller and Commons all entered the fray as the customary procession of second-half substitutions in these friendly international fixtures continued, inevitably disrupting the rhythm of what had become an increasingly stodgy affair as the underfoot conditions deteriorated.
Scotland, while struggling to find as much cohesion
as Strachan would have sought, continued to carry the greater threat with both Naismith and Mulgrew coming close to adding to the slender lead with good
efforts from distance.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Webster, Berra, Mulgrew, Maloney, Brown, Adam, Burke, Naismith, Fletcher. Subs: Gilks, Morrison, Commons, Miller, Bardsley, Rhodes, McArthur, Mackie, Martin, Wallace, Snodgrass, Phillips.
Estonia: Pareiko, Jaager, Morozov, Klavan, Teniste, Puri, Mosnikov, Vassiljev, Oper, Kink, Ojamaa. Subs: Meerits, Sisov, Rahn, Kruglov, Kams, Luts, Purje, Voskoboinikov, Ahjupera.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France)