Scotland were not able to cling on for victory over spirited opponents after taking early control at Tannadice.
Scotland U21 2 - 2 Hungary U21
Scotland: McGregor (25), Ryan Fraser (38)
Hungary: Rado (68 pen, 87)
Hungary did not let the loss of two first-half goals deflect them from their purpose and equalised through the lively Andras Rado with just three minutes remaining. The striker had earlier halved the deficit from the penalty spot.
A healthy crowd of over 4,500 at Tannadice had hoped the suggestion of a second comeback by the visitors remained just that – a suggestion. First-half goals from Callum McGregor and Ryan Fraser looked to have set Scotland on their way.
As with the main event in Poland, many more wanted to see this game than did. Only the George Fox stand was originally open to supporters but, when the queues outside began to snake down the street, it became clear than an insufficient number of turnstiles were open. Some went home again, others persisted.
They were still streaming in half an hour after kick off. Indeed, referee Richard Liesveld had to hold up play for a spell as overspill supporters congregated at the corner between the George Fox stand and Shed end.
Many therefore missed Scotland go ahead after 25 minutes as Celtic’s McGregor scored his first U21 goal for his country with a drilled free-kick. Scotland stretched their lead 12 minutes later through Fraser, set up by home favourite Stuart Armstrong.
It was the Bournemouth player’s first goal for Scotland as well and the friendly clash was going entirely as manager Billy Stark had hoped, in that it was providing several players with a feel for international football at this level. However, victory just eluded an experimental side.
There were three debutants in the starting XI – Fraser, St Mirren’s Sean Kelly and Craig Slater of Kilmarnock. There were several other first appearances clocked up in the second half, including Hibernian midfielder Sam Stanton. The 19 year old replaced Armstrong at half-time to continue his remarkable rise to prominence in recent weeks.
With Ryan Gauld and John Souttar having pulled out on the eve of the fixture, it left Armstrong as the lone representative of the host club among the 19 players who were stripped to play last night. Armstrong also took the captain’s armband on a night that was designed to help prepare Scotland for the vital Group 3 European qualifying clash with the Netherlands in Paisley. As a dress rehearsal, it must still be judged a success – on the pitch at least.
Stark had wanted to play the Hungarians because they play in the 4-3-3 system favoured by the Dutch. Stark described this as an attempt by the Hungarians to return to the constant movement style of play showcased by the Magical Magyars in the 1950s. Judging from last night, they are still a long way from fulfilling that ambition, but they refused to give up.
While the visitors seemed eager to attack, it was Scotland who threatened first. They should have had a penalty after only nine minutes when Hearts’ Callum Paterson was nudged in the back by Botond Barath. However, the Dutch referee was not interested. There was another appeal just three minutes later when Roland Szolnoki tripped Fraser, but Scotland wasted the free-kick that they were eventually given after the referee decided the offence had taken place just outside the box. Hungary were not simply absorbing pressure and Bence Gyurjan saw a deflected shot skip past Jordan Archer’s far post.
Armstrong was the obvious lynchpin for Scotland and he emitted the confidence of someone who knows he belongs at this level, and who is also playing regularly for his club.
He controlled the game in midfield as the hosts began to settle. Indeed, there was little surprise when Scotland broke the deadlock after 25 minutes after Paterson was felled by a challenge from Patrik Poor. McGregor stepped up and hit a low shot past the wall and into the net. Goalkeeper Levente Jova should probably have kept the effort out since it crossed the line after going under his body.
McGregor, who is on loan at Notts County, had a part to play in Scotland’s second goal, too. He played in Armstrong whose neat cut-back was side-footed into the net by Fraser. The supporters who by now had congregated in the previously empty stand behind the goal were appreciative of having watched such a slickly-worked move develop beneath their noses.
They were also handed a good view as Hungary got back into the contest after 67 minutes. An innocuous ball in from the left struck Chalmers on the arm. The defender was dumbstruck when he discovered the referee had awarded a penalty rather than a corner, as he had clearly expected. Rado did not hang around and swept the award into the net from the spot.
That goal provided the Hungarians with some hope and they dominated proceedings thereafter as Scotland continued to make changes. Paterson and Fraser made way for Hibs’ Danny Handling and John Herron of Celtic. As ever, the alterations disrupted play but Hungary were not complaining as Rado struck with a fine finish into the corner after creating a chance for himself with three minutes left.
Scotland U21: Archer (Kettings 46), Marcus Fraser, Findlay, Kelly (Chalmers 46),McGhee, Armstrong (Stanton 46), Slater (Grimmer 57),McLean (McGinn 58),McGregor, Paterson (Herron 76),Ryan Fraser (Handling 76). Subs Not Used: Henly.
Hungary U21: Jova,Barath (Kelemen 69),Lang, Szolnoki, Poor,R ado, Kovacs, Gyurjan (Vass 83), Vecsei, Bacsa (Ugrai 86), Nagy (Szakaly 83). Subs Not Used: Gyuru, Batik, Tamas, Jagodics.
Referee: R Liesverd (Neth)