How Kevin Nisbet's poignant strike helped Scotland overcome Covid call-offs in morale-boosting draw with Netherlands
On the evidence of this outing, Scotland do not have much to worry about when the Euros kick-off in earnest later this month.
Steve Clarke believes the Netherlands are of a similar standard to Scotland’s Group C opposition, including England. A Scotland team including several auxiliaries were more than a match for the Dutch on the Algarve. The Scotland manager was particularly pleased to note that one or two of those previously identified as merely squad members took the opportunity to come to the fore.
Hibs striker Kevin Nisbet, who put Scotland ahead for the second time in the match, was undoubtedly one of those, as was David Turnbull, who proved remarkably assured and might have augmented his debut with a goal. But Nisbet’s contribution was the standout story on a clammy evening on the Atlantic coast.
This was always likely to prove a memorable summer given that Scotland are taking part in their first major finals for 23 years and it has already started delivering wonderful tales. In the case of Nisbet, it’s also a poignant narrative.
His father, Thomas, an ardent Scotland fan, passed away in October. Nisbet vowed to dedicate the rest of his career to him, including when he made his Scotland debut – which he did earlier this year against the Faroe islands.
He has now scored his first goal for his country and did so just three minutes after replacing Lyndon Dykes shortly after the hour mark. He was in the right place at the right time to side-foot home Andy Robertson’s cross from the left to give Scotland the lead again after Jack Hendry’s spectacular opener was cancelled out by Memphis Depay. The Lyon forward, who is being linked with Barcelona, also pegged Scotland back two minutes from the end when he curled in a free-kick.
It was, nevertheless, a hugely heartening performance in the Scots’ penultimate game before taking on Czech Republic in their Group C opener a week on Monday. Scotland have not beaten the Dutch since James McFadden’s goal in the first leg of their Euro 2004 play-off encounter in November 2003.
Billy Gilmour, who came on for his debut last night with nine minutes left, was only two at the time. Sadly, he could not help his side post a historic victory here. The Scots were thwarted at the death after Hendry was harshly penalised for barging into Depay. The Dutch forward picked himself up and scored with a terrific free-kick into Craig Gordon’s far corner. The Hearts ‘keeper barely moved.
For better or worse given their struggles this season, Celtic provided five of Scotland’s starting XI but it was the one who did not actually feature for them last season, Hendry, who handed Scotland a dream start in Faro after only ten minutes with his first goal in his sixth appearance.
The strike was timely in terms of making a claim to start when the competitive action begins. It was also a reminder to whoever will be picking Celtic’s team next season that they have a goalscoring defender in their midst.
Hendry is not, though, the finished article. He was among those guilty of switching off when the Netherlands equalised just seven minutes later. The 19-year-old centre-back Jurrien Timber stepped out of defence almost as impressively as Hendry to deliver the sumptuous ball that was headed back by skipper Gini Wijnaldum for Depay to volley into the corner. Turnbull failed to track the former Manchester United striker who had plenty of time to measure up a shot that flew beyond Gordon into the far corner.
Scotland could and probably should have been 2-0 ahead by this point. Dykes passed up a fine opportunity to score just two minutes after Hendry’s opener after a good move down the right involving Ryan Christie and James Forrest, who occupied the right wingback role.
The manager’s assessment of the outing was understandably upbeat. He even put a positive spin on losing seven of his squad due to Covid-related reasons. It meant he could judge others who might not otherwise have been involved. Of the 19 stripped last night, only two, Scott McTominay and goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, did not see any action.
The excitement is building. Scotland have just one more outing to fine-tune – against Luxembourg on Sunday – before the serious business begins. This offered Clarke plenty of food for thought. Hendry might well be in his thoughts to start against Czech Republic. Liam Cooper looked strong in the centre of a three-man defence.
Five of the Covid-related absentees could reasonably be described as very likely starters when the Scots kick-off their Euro 2020 campaign.
With the Netherlands chosen by Clarke because they closely resemble the strength and style of Scotland’s Group C rivals, it was regrettable that he was not able to road-test something approaching his strongest side.
John Fleck’s positive Covid test nixed this idea. Not that he is likely to feature against Czech Republic.
But David Marshall, Che Adams, John McGinn, Grant Hanley and Stephen O’Donnell could all appear in his starting XI at Hampden a week on Monday. And there’s the rub. So much of what Clarke is doing must have a huge asterisk next to it, for there is still so much uncertainty.
It’s not only him of course. All national team managers are operating in this corridor of uncertainty.
The Dutch have already sent home a player who has contracted Covid-19. Valencia ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen won’t play any part in the forthcoming tournament. It is why Norwich City ‘keeper Tim Krul was the one charged with keeping out Scotland in the Estadio Algarve.
After an initial flurry, when he saw Hendry’s drive fly past him and then beat away Dykes’ effort, he did not have too much to do until Nisbet’s introduction, and then it was only to pick the ball out of the net.
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