Scotland 1-2 Netherlands: Ladies slump in play-off

THIS wasn’t what was anticipated. No one had expected Scotland to waltz through this play-off match against a team ranked six places above them but they had believed they would make a match of it.

Netherlands players Manon Melis on her spot-kick conversion. Picture: SNS

Throughout the first half they failed to do that and while they managed to cut the deficit and restore some pride after the break, the goals conceded could yet prove their undoing.

The Scots have come out on top against their guests before. They have done it to such an extent that few would consider it a fluke and no one would consider a repeat impossible. Not on this stage, not with so much at stake and not when the Scots had suffered the pain of being so near and yet so far in the past.

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Anna Sigeul’s side have rattled on the door of the last two Euro championships only to lose out on away goals, against Russia and against Spain at the play-off stage. On both occasions they had been unable to make home advantage count, finding their fighting spirit and their self-belief on the away leg each time.

So, the last thing they wanted was to concede two early goals in the home leg of this tie. But they did precious little to prevent it.

A poor start, in which they struggled to compete with an athletic Dutch side which was proving quicker in thought and deed, turned into a terrible start with just ten minutes gone.

For all Scotland’s inadequacies at that point, and there were a few, they were also a tad unfortunate. Rachel Corsie was a frantic bystander for several minutes after she received a whack to the face. Sent to the sideline for treatment, she believed the bleeding had been stemmed but the fourth official was reluctant to let her return to the action. That left her team-mates struggling with a numerical disadvantage as she headed back into the dressing room to make whatever changes had been demanded. It was backs to the walls for those still defending Gemma Fay’s goal and as the seconds turned into minutes they eventually caved as Lieke Martens, following in from the left wing for an angled drive, sent the ball past the Scotland keeper and captain.

That seemed to knock the stuffing out the hosts and even when they restored numerical parity they were unable to contain a Netherlands side intent on driving home their advantage. Using their pace they drove at the Scots time and time again, and were quick to shut down any Scottish foray forward.

The home side were making things easy for them, their pattern of play so predictable.

The failure to mix things up, trying to play everything out from the back saw they pegged back and allowed the likes of Lieke Martens, Vivianne Miedema and the experienced Manon Melis to pounce.

It was the pacey winger who gave the visitors a two-goal advantage from the spot before the midway point in the half. Miedema had won the award but it was her colleague who buried it.

The second half was a different game, the Scots more confident and willing to really test their opponents.

Kim Little, making her 100th appearance, had been getting more involved towards the end of the first half and she was a greater nuisance at the start of the second.

She wasn’t the only one, as Scotland got up the wings and Jane Ross also gave the Dutch a fright. But it was Little who reduced the deficit after the Dutch No.3 Stephanie van der Gragt gave away a penalty. The Seattle Reign star was clinical in converting it.

That spurred the Scots on and they could have equalised when Jennifer Beattie twice came close with headers from set pieces but the first went just wide and the keeper managed to get down to block the second.

It leaves the Scots in with a shout and they will travel with a sense of purpose but they will be kicking themselves that they didn’t display that throughout the entire 90 minutes.