THERE is some strange alchemy at work with Scotland. Nothing much was ventured by Gordon Strachan’s side last night, but an awful lot seemed gained.
Poland 0 1 Scotland
Scorer: Brown (77)
As with the win in Norway in their last outing, the forward contribution of Scotland in Warsaw was strictly limited. But, as in that Molde win, the tepid nature of the friendly mattered not a jot because of the have-a-go instincts of Scott Brown. Instincts that delivered Scotland a barely believable fourth win in five games.
On the night that brought the return of Darren Fletcher to the international scene, his deputising skipper struck a psychological blow for Scotland against toothless Euro 2016 qualifying opponents by striking a humdinger of an 18-yard drive with his left foot to beat Wojciech Szczesny all ends up.
At the other end, keeper David Marshall, preferred to Allan McGregor, produced the sort of confident display that justified his manager’s decision to retain him. The Cardiff City man wasn’t exactly overworked, a makeable save in the closing moments one of only three interventions, but that was testament to the composure of those in front of him as Strachan pursued a policy of containment.
The Scotland manager stated beforehand that, in order to serve the group, he would pick a team that might have some people saying: ‘Why is he there?’ In some respects, he didn’t disappoint. Even if each of the players chosen could stake a decent claim for inclusion, no amount of guesswork would have settled upon a Scotland team that included Barry Bannan but not Steven Naismith, and included both Steven Fletcher and Ross McCormack. For all that Strachan maintained there would be no curveballs in his selection for opposite number Adam Nawalka to ponder ahead of the teams’ serious reunion in the qualifiers in seven months’ time at the same venue, it didn’t feel that way.
When that crucial assignment comes around, the full regiment of Tartan Army footsoldiers – last night they numbered 2,000 – will luxuriate in the quite magnificent surroundings of Poland’s national stadium.
“Space Age” hardly does justice to the cavernous 58,000-capacity ground built for the hosting of Euro 2012. If a pod containing Captain Kirk had descended from the closed roof on which hung four jumbotron screens, it would have seemed entirely in keeping .
Moreover, Scotland followers at the October fixture will not want for pre-match entertainment if the Polish FA again print the words of O Flower Of Scotland in the programme deploying a Scots that no Scot speaks. That which threw up the great lines “That focht and dee’d for, Yer wee bit Hill and Glenn, An stuid agin him, Prood Edward’s Airmie”.
Scotland stood against their hosts well initially, despite the fact Poland had a more familiar look to them than the visitors. It must be saidthat they were without their stand-out performers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski. Scotland were firmly on the back foot early on. Aside from Marshall tipping over acrobatically after Ludovic Obraniak tested him with an curling drive after dispossessing James Morrison, there wasn’t much to engage the home fans.
With Scotland ceding so much territory and possession, that situation felt like it would be temporary. A far from clean hit from Arkadiusz Milik approaching the half-hour almost caught out Marshall, who appeared to go down late to his left before slapping away a ball that had bounced awkwardly in front of him.
With Obraniak the dominant presence in midfield, Strachan switched from his favoured 4-2-3-1 to a more orthodox 4-4-2 in an attempt to get traction in the encounter, and prove less reactive. It seemed to have the desired effect, with Scotland fashioning a first chance on the stroke of the interval when Brown fed Alan Hutton down the right. But the full-back chose the wrong option, shooting from an unforgiving angle to allow Szczesny to block when there were blue shirts free in the box awaiting a cut-back.
As expected, Strachan made changes at half-time, with Fletcher ending an enforced absence of almost a year-and-a-half from Scotland colours. Morrison made way, while Naismith was introduced for Steven Fletcher. Scotland began to both open up and be opened up, with Hutton booked for taking out Shawomir Peszko as the player broke dangerously down the left. From the resultant free-kick Mateusz Klich mercifully made a mess of a downward header that presented him with a glorious scoring chance. Shortly afterwards, with the visitors starting to appear stretched, Milik flicked over after he was cleverly sent through on goal.
A debut for Andrew Robertson arrived in the 67th minute, but it was the introduction of Charlie Adam 10 minutes later that helped turn the encounter. His pressurising header after Ikechi Anya had crossed from the right was what pre-empted the ball breaking to Brown on the edge of the box.
What followed was a blistering effort that allowed Strachan to continue to apply some more soothing balms on the weeping sores of the previous Craig Levein era. Sometimes, it seems tough to define exactly what is working, but something is to a remarkable degree.
Of course, that needs to continue in the forthcoming qualifying campaign.
Poland: Szczesny, Piszczek, Brzyski (Komorowski - 91’ ), Krychowiak (Jodlowiec - 88’ ), Szukala, Glik, Sobota (Maslowski - 89’ ), Klich (Teodorczyk - 82’ ), Milik, Obraniak (Robak - 74’ ), Peszko (Polanski - 74’ ).
Scotland: Marshall, Hutton (Bardsley - 67’ ), Mulgrew, Brown, Martin, Greer, Bannan (Robertson - 67’ ), Morrison (Fletcher - 45’ ), McCormack (Adam - 76’ ), Fletcher (Naismith - 45), Anya (Burke - 92’ ).
Referee: A Bieri (Swi)