Andrew Smith: Cheers for English goal sum up strange times at Hampden
We would not want to go there. Last night though, as the cheers for a home equaliser at Wembley rang out among a decent crowd on the Mount Florida slopes, all Scotland supporters were happy to go where they never thought possible.
That, in itself, tells of the topsy-turvy nature of this World Cup qualifying campaign. A year ago, as England enjoyed a faultless opening to Group F and Gordon Strachan’s men serially faltered, in part Gareth Southgate’s men seemed to be helping ensure there was no route to Russia for their ancient rivals.
How it all turns. Scotland are now two games away from a possible play-off slot because England are offering assistance as they limp along.
The first Hampden hurrah from home fans for an England goal in living memory arrived in the 37th minute last night when Eric Dier equalised a surprise third-minute opener for Slovakia.
That goal for the Slovaks, who had been sandwiched between England and Scotland in the top three in Group F, had meant there was fretting among the Tartan Army even after Christophe Berra breached the Maltese defence within the first ten minutes.
News filtering through from Wembley that England could provide no instant response to the Stanislav Lobotka engendered scary talk among the Scotland faithful.
Little wonder, since it would have kept the Slovaks four points ahead of Strachan’s men with two games to play – the first of them at Hampden in a month.
That, now, humongous encounter would have been rendered wholly irrelevant if they had beaten England because they have Malta at home in their last encounter.
Essentially, then, without an England goal last night, there would have been an end to Scotland’s hope that they can find a way to seize second place in their section.
The fretting about Slovak’s Wembley lead was understandable, then. ‘Wouldn’t it just be like the thing if they lost at Wembley for the first time in a decade when we need them not to’ was the general tenor of conversation.
As if England, with Slovakia only two points behind them going into last night’s game, would lose just to spite Scotland.
Instead, a 59th-minute goal by Marcus Rashford that clinched victory brought more cheers and even a chorus of “we’ll be coming down the road” from the now at-ease Scotland fans inside Hampden.
Apart from Leigh Griffiths’ goal shortly after half-time there had been nothing much to excite them in front of their eyes.
When Slovakia come to Glasgow on 5 October, Scotland absolutely need to emerge victorious to retain their prospects of the great escape from this group.
They also need a win by England against Slovenia, though, to blunt the prospects of a team they will travel to meet in southern Europe three days later.
That means that, as with last night, there will again be some unified British championing of international footballers from a Tartan Army desperate for Scotland and England goals in equal measure.
Strange Hampden days indeed.