A double squad, a brace of wins. Maybe Gordon Strachan should adopt this strategy before the next friendly double header, against France and Italy.
Over 30 Scotland players have shared the load over the course of the last week. Last night’s group came in and completed a very satisfactory job, with Matt Ritchie’s eighth-minute goal securing a win which complements Thursday’s victory over Czech Republic, by the same narrow scoreline.
A lone piper on the roof of the stadium helped set the scene prior to the match but there was plenty of room inside had he wanted a seat – around 35,000 of them were going spare.
A game between two convalescing sides, neither of whom qualified for this summer’s Euro 2016 finals, was always going to be a hard sell, however much ticket prices were discounted.
But it was an exercise of enormous value to Strachan and, one assumes, Danish counterpart Age Hareide. The latter was reminded to give Kasper Schmeichel and skipper Daniel Agger communication lessons before their next game.
And Strachan learned that neither Kieran Tiernan or John McGinn look out of place in a Scotland shirt, even if the shirt itself – white sleeves, anyone? – seemed decidedly out of keeping with tradition.
Something else Strachan took from the game is that he can still depend on Craig Gordon, who performed heroics near the end to keep Scotland ahead. The manager might also be minded to have a word with Liam Bridcutt if and when he next appears for Scotland: the on-loan Leeds United player was fortunate to escape a red card for a poor lunge on Celtic defender Erik Sviatchenko shortly after coming on.
With Kasper’s famous father Peter looking on from the commentary box, a terrible mix-up in the heart of the Danish defence allowed Scotland to open the scoring after only eight minutes, courtesy of Ritchie’s third international goal. The same player should have scored his fourth in the second half but was denied by a brilliant block by defender Andreas Christensen.
The blame for what proved the decisive goal fell most heavily on Agger’s shoulders. The centre-half should have dealt with the problem caused by Leigh Griffiths dummying Scott Brown’s through ball first before haranguing Schmeichel for hesitancy. But he didn’t, opting instead to try and block off Ritchie, who combined strength with opportunism to put Scotland ahead, finishing neatly past the Leicester City keeper.
It was a start that helped settle any nerves, although by the way McGinn and Tierney started the game, there was little evidence of anxiety. Tierney did what he has been doing all season for Celtic, stretching teams with his pace in attack and snuffing out danger at the other end.
One tackle, when he whipped the ball off the feet of Yussuf Yurary Poulsen, said everything about why he has become a Scotland player at the age of 18. He was excellent before making way for Charlie Mulgrew at half-time.
McGinn, too, reproduced his form with Hibs, thrusting through midfield early on in the manner of a young Scott Brown, whose less high-energy performance provided some consolidation next to him.
A late change to the teamlines was due to a numbers mix-up rather than indecision on the part of Strachan, who entertained reporters a day earlier with tales of Alex Ferguson exasperating Archie Knox by making alterations to the Aberdeen starting XI while walking between his office and dressing room.
This Scotland side, however, bore the hallmarks of a lot of thought: this wasn’t something devised by Strachan on the way to Hampden from their Mar Hall base. He clearly hinted something might be up in his pre-match press conference when he conceded he might – might – be willing to play both Steven Fletcher and Griffiths in the same side.
This he did, with Fletcher playing a more withdrawn No 10 role, something he has been asked to do while on loan with Marseille. It seemed to work for the most part. While no-one could mistake the inclusion of both strikers as Strachan suddenly deciding to adopt a retro 4-4-2 formation, it was a bold statement.
On the evidence of the first 45 minutes, the ploy paid off. Griffiths should have been played in by Shaun Maloney, whose pass was too strong. Fletcher, meanwhile, did well to angle a header from Steven Whittaker’s cross towards the near post, which saw Schmeichel scramble to save.
Fletcher did not reappear after half-time, probably as a result of the exertions so soon after a virus saw him drop out of the first squad. Griffiths did not last much longer, replaced on the hour mark by Chris Martin and clearly frustrated by his latest failure to get off the mark for Scotland – last night was his seventh goalless cap.
But more importantly, Scotland kept the Danes at bay, Gordon making one tremendous left-handed save to deny Nicolai Jorgensen in the first half, and then pulling off a remarkable double stop from first Christian Eriksen’s shot and then substitute Martin Braithwaite’s follow-up header.
As in Prague, Scotland showed that promise exists but in the end they had to rely on something that was never in any doubt – their goalkeeping excellence.
Referee: S Oddvar Moen (Nor)
SCOTLAND: Gordon, Whittaker, Tierney (Mulgrew 46), Greer, Hanley, Ritchie (Burke 82), Brown, Steven Fletcher (Anya 46), Griffiths (Chris Martin 59), McGinn, Maloney (Bridcutt 69). Subs not used: Bain, Caddis, Forrest, Cooper, Murphy.
DENMARK: Schmeichel (Lossl 46), Kjaer, Agger (Sviatchenko 64), Durmisi, Christensen, Eriksen (Schone 81), Dalsgaard, Delaney, Jorgensen, Yussuf Poulsen (Braithwaite 46), Hojbjerg. Subs not used: Lindegaard,Wass,Kvist Jorgensen,Thomsen, Vestergaard,Okore,Knudsen,Vibe.