“ONLY here for the cheap beer” was the ironic chant from the Tartan Army on what was an expensive but ultimately satisfying trip for Scotland’s intrepid fans.
Scorers: Brown 61
They were encouraged as Scotland plundered victory on a freezing night in Molde with a goal by skipper Scott Brown just after the hour mark.
Brown may have been fortunate to still be on the park after he appeared to aim a kick at Vergard Forren in the first half, but it was a cheering night for
Scotland in terms of their ability to snatch an unlikely result.
The scoreline was of more value than the performance and it ends a year of undeniable improvement under Strachan, who has succeeded in making Scotland hard to beat. This victory might have been undeserved but it was supremely gratifying.
As well as picking up a third consecutive clean sheet for the first time since 2007, it provided further evidence that Strachan is building a team that can put together a string of positive results, something they will need to do if they are to entertain hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016. This was a fifth victory in ten matches under Strachan.
Scotland won the psychological battle as well last night. While several of the Norway players wore gloves, the Scots went without. Indeed, the majority even wore short-sleeved shirts. This was a test of character as much as anything. Despite being under siege for much of the first half and for parts of the second, the visitors were able to avoid going behind. This
provided the platform on which to stage an act of great larceny.
One glimpse of goal was all Scotland needed to claim victory. Brown’s effort from just outside the box was enough to end Strachan’s first year in charge of Scotland the way it started – with a 1-0 win in freezing conditions. Since that first victory against Estonia at Pittodrie there have been many more positive experiences than negative ones. Last night was another warming occasion in one sense at least.
The players had woken to snow-lined streets outside their hotel window and, throughout the afternoon a mixture of snow and sleet continued to fall.
While the pitch was far from perfect, Norwegian officials
always seemed confident that the game would go ahead at the well-appointed Aker Stadion.
It wouldn’t have done to bring two teams all the way here and not play, but the conditions were certainly not suited to Scotland’s attempts to play the ball out from the back, which is something they sought to do at the beginning of the match.
Strachan’s stated “Plan B” hinged on a three-man midfield of Charlie Adam, Scott Brown and Craig Bryson. As reported yesterday morning, Bryson made his first start for his country in central midfield – three years after his debut as a substitute against the Faroe Isles. Sadly for the Derby County midfielder, his evening came to an end at half-time as Strachan altered his tactics at half-time after a
chastening first 45 minutes.
The manager had started with Ikechi Anya and Robert Snodgrass on opposite flanks and Steven Naismith employed through the middle. It was a formation that looked designed for counter-attacking. However, these noble intentions perished in the difficult opening stages, in which Norway quickly secured the upper hand.
Scotland had begun promisingly as they moved the ball quickly across the park. Norway were quick to close them down, however. David Marshall was by far the busier goalkeeper in the opening stages. Gordon Greer, too, contributed to keeping the scores level by making important interceptions. Marshall was quick to react to a through ball and cleared from Marcus Pedersen’s feet. Yet it was Norway who were almost caught out first.
Goalkeeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland, who was making his debut last night, thrashed at a clearance, which only made it as far as Anya, who also miskicked his effort at goal.
It was going to be this kind of night. Mistakes were always
likely. Scotland were being pushed deeper and deeper into their own half. The manager quickly re-arranged his formation. Snodgrass was redeployed in the centre, playing just off
Naismith – as he did when paired with Steven Fletcher against the United States on Friday. Norway continued to look the more threatening side, however. Marcus Pederson just failed to connect with Ola Kamara’s cross from the left. Pedersen also then saw a header loop over,
before Magnus Wolff Eikrem sent in a shot that whistled past Marshall’s far post.
By reaching half-time with the scores still level, Scotland were provided with some hope.
Barry Bannan replaced Bryson at the interval as Strachan attempted to reinforce the midfield and provide more cover on the right. Norway still looked by far the more threatening. Substitute Mohammed Abdellaoue headed narrowly wide as the home side continued to apply pressure and they should have made the breakthrough after 57 minutes when Abdellaoue provided a cutback for Marcus Pedersen, whose shot was well blocked by Marshall’s legs. His save was deserving of greater acclaim in light of the ball having gone through Steven Whittaker’s legs before reaching the unsighted goalkeeper.
The moment was granted even greater significance just three minutes later when Scotland took the lead with a well-struck goal by Brown. He pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the box and rifled an angled, 20-yard effort into the bottom left-hand corner. His shot was helped on its way by taking a nick off flailing defender Tore Reginiussen, although Nyland, the Norway goalkeeper, may well have done more to keep the ball out.
Brown punched the air, the Tartan Army were re-energised and spent the rest of the match lustily belting out songs – in an effort to keep warm as much as anything. Morten Gamst Pedersen should have equalised after 72 minutes but stabbed his left-foot shot wide. Substitute Anders Konradsen made an even greater hash of an excellent
opportunity to equalise right at the end. For Scotland, one shot on goal had been enough.
Norway: Nyland, Elabdellaoui (Linnes 60), Hogli, W Eikrem (Konradsen 80), Reginiussen (Strandberg 65), Forren Skjelbred (Daehli 68), Jenssen, Pederson (Elyounooussi 86), Kamara (Abdellaoue 45), Gamst Pedersen. Subs not used: Jarstein, Skjelvik, Grytebust.
Scotland: Marshall, Hutton, Whittaker, Adam (McArthur 64), Martin, Greer, Bryson (Bannan 45), Brown, Naismith (Berra 94), Snodgrass, Anya (Conway 51). Unused subs: Fox, Boyd, Wallace, Mackay-Steven, Armstrong.