Flat Scotland's alarming crash continues as Steve Clarke's men fall into potholes on road to Germany

Boos fill air at full time as youthful Northern Ireland leave Hampden with victory

What has happened to Scotland’s mojo? This is a puzzle that not even Super John McGinn, depicted with bulging muscles and wearing a cape on the front cover of the match programme, can solve it appears.

There was little here for the Tartan Army to savour. Not God Save the King, sung with gusto by the insanely vocally active away supporters as the teams lined up before kick-off, and certainly not what they watched on the pitch as a Northern Ireland side with an average age of 23.7 foiled and frustrated and ultimately bettered Steve Clarke’s men to post a first Hampden win in almost 50 years.

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Perhaps the most worrying aspect amid all this gloom was the loss of skipper Andy Robertson to injury in the first half. Scotland were still digesting the concession of the decisive goal scored by Robertson's 20-year-old Liverpool teammate Conor Bradley, the breakout star of this impressive Northern Ireland side.

Conor Bradley scores to make it 1-0 to Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden.Conor Bradley scores to make it 1-0 to Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden.
Conor Bradley scores to make it 1-0 to Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden.

A penny for manager Michael O’Neill’s thoughts. He might well have been in the home dugout rather than guiding his own country’s new wave of talent had he accepted an offer to take over in 2018. A penny, too, for Steve Clarke's thoughts.

There’s now just 79 days until his side are due to open Euro 2024 against Germany. Don’t panic urged the Scotland manager after Friday’s 4-0 defeat to the Netherlands. Well, judging by the silence that enveloped Hampden – in the home sections at least – panic is not the emotion. It’s more a case of complete bafflement. How have Scotland managed to become so underwhelming so quickly?

It’s especially dismaying when one recalls a night of nights against Spain 12 months ago on Thursday, when the rattled visitors were put to the sword by Scott McTominay and the Hampden Roar rang out again. The judgement was again loud here, both at half-time and at full-time, but it was much less acclamatory. Jeers filled the air.

Scotland’s next game here is a Hampden send-off against Finland in June. Quite how Clarke restores faith between now and then is difficult to see. A 4-0 defeat to the multi-talented Dutch is one thing, a 1-0 home reverse against a Northern Ireland side dotted with lower league players from England is something else entirely.

Andy Robertson picked up an ankle injury and was replaced before the break.Andy Robertson picked up an ankle injury and was replaced before the break.
Andy Robertson picked up an ankle injury and was replaced before the break.

Scotland had conceded a hefty 18 goals in their previous six outings and one of Clarke’s demands was for the total to remain the same after this latest outing. Well, that desire was shattered after 32 minutes. The Scots were once again cast as the authors of their downfall although it was a fine piece of opportunism from Bradley, this ultra-promising full-back who actually played right in a midfield three here.

This landmark first goal for his country was a bit of a gift from Scotland's right wing-back Nathan Patterson, Bradley’s club rival from across Stanley Park. He lost a 50-50 with Brodie Spencer near the halfway line before seeming to retrieve the situation with the employment of some pace. But a rush of blood to the head saw him knock the ball into Bradley’s path and the Liverpool young gun did superbly well to create a shooting opportunity for himself as he ran away from the home goal line. He was helped by a deflection off Jack Hendry that provided the loop that meant Angus Gunn was helpless as the ball soared over him into the net.

This came amid a ruinous six-minute period for Scotland. It could have potentially far-reaching consequences in terms of their Euro 2024 prospects. Robertson was involved in a collision with Trai Hume just before the half hour mark and was still limping around as Scotland went behind. The skipper received lengthy treatment on the pitch and then called it a day after 36 minutes, with Lewis Ferguson replacing him as Clarke switched to a back four.

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Many had expressed their dismay that the Bologna midfielder had not been selected to play from the start and it was certainly good to see the player given a decent chunk of time to show what he can do. But absolutely no-one, not his father Derek or anyone else, wanted to see it happen in these circumstances.

Lawrence Shankland came close with this header right at the death.Lawrence Shankland came close with this header right at the death.
Lawrence Shankland came close with this header right at the death.

So where did it all go wrong here? Even before Robertson’s departure things had seemed, well, very flat. Ryan Christie curled a shot wide in the opening minutes and until McGinn’s less-than-super shot trundled towards Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the Northern Ireland goal after 47 minutes Scotland did not manage so much as a shot on target.

Alarmingly, the Scots could and probably should have been 2-0 down at the interval. The hugely impressive Shea Charles stretched out his legs and skipped through the Scottish defence towards the danger area, carrying the ball wide of Liam Cooper with a feint to open up the goal. He only had to pick his spot really but shot wastefully wide. A let-off for Scotland.

Any positives? Ferguson showed glimpses of what he can do. One burst through as he beat the offside trap and latched onto a Billy Gilmour through ball from deep in midfield replicated what we have seen from the midfielder in footage from Serie A games. On this occasion a combination of goalkeeper and defender denied him. But there was precious little else to provide much solace. Gilmour was replaced by Kenny McLean having failed to light up the night as he did in Amsterdam.

Lyndon Dykes did precious little to advance his case to start in Germany. Indeed, Lawrence Shankland, despite his much debated miss against the Netherlands last week, might have jumped at least one place in the queue by dint of only being involved for the last dozen or so minutes here. He was afforded a huge cheer when he came on. He saw one shot blocked by Spencer on the line and sent a header over in the dying moments, with many home fans having already drifted away.

That was really it in terms of goal-scoring chances save for a scuffed effort from Jack Hendry that Isaac Price thumped away from the danger area. Scotland are now seven games without a win for the first time this millennium. Road to Germany? Right now it feels more like a road to nowhere.



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