Manager Steve Clarke had warned against expecting a convincing win but won’t mind being proved wrong on this occasion. A 4-0 victory that takes the Scots into second place in Group F is as much as anyone could have hoped for. Clarke's side can now put thoughts of a World Cup finals berth to one side for the time being. This was a supremely welcome way in which to sign-off prior to the Euro 2020 finals this summer.
Scotland profited from the Arsenal-Aston Villa connection in Kieran Tierney and John McGinn, with the latter scoring twice to reach double-figures in terms of international goals.
McGinn struck early to create the impression that this was going to be surprisingly straightforward. The midfielder scored again seven minutes into the second half to ease some rising anxiety.
Tierney is fast becoming Scotland’s most valuable player and is demonstrating he can achieve this status from left centre-back. The moderate quality of the opposition did allow him to venture forward to occupy Andy Robertson’s left wingback role, with the Scotland skipper often tucking inside as an auxiliary forward. Tierney had produced three assists by the hour mark, two for McGinn and one for Che Adams, whose Scotland career got up and running in earnest with a first goal.
Clarke had been wary of expressing the hope in public that this fixture might be useful in helping strikers get off the mark. Hibs’ Kevin Nisbet replaced Lyndon Dykes after 68 minutes and then Oli McBurnie – the forward most in need of a goal – arrived in place of Adams with just over 15 minutes left. Sadly, there was no opportunity for the struggling Sheffield United forward to break his duck. There was a limit to the generosity of the Faroese.
It had taken a while before Clarke felt comfortable enough to make such changes. The visitors initially proved as doughty as he had predicted on the eve of the fixture. Scotland avoided being the butt of an early April Fool’s joke and can reflect on an ultimately very satisfactory outing. The Faroe Islands are far from the worst team in the world. They are not even the worst team in Scotland’s group. They proved that here and can count themselves unlucky at being denied at least one goal.
Clarke wrong-footed some by reverting to three at the back – with Grant Hanley retained in the middle. It wasn’t quite the approach favoured by Gordon Strachan when he decided to start with one centre-half in a match against Gibraltar six years ago. Two of Scotland’s back three – Scott McTominay and Tierney – are often employed elsewhere, particularly in the case of the former, who has been so impressive recently in midfield for club and country. It was certainly not the back four many had expected.
Clarke had advised us not to get too “hung up” on systems. He has been tiring of the incessant chatter about 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-2 or 4-5-1. At times during this game it was like watching Hibs in the 1950s, with skipper Andy Robertson helping make-up a five-man front line, along with Lyndon Dykes, Adams, McGinn and Ryan Fraser.
McGinn continued a Lawrie Reilly-like scoring streak which has him score 10 goals in 32 appearances – nine of them coming in his last 14 caps.
His first came after Tierney had advanced in the left-wing position and delivered an acute cut-back for McGinn to sweep in with his trusty left foot. It was not as spectacular as his strike the other night against Austria but it was welcome in that it served to settle Scotland – or at least it should have done.
In actual fact it led to a period of pressure from the visitors. Only a fingertips save from Craig Gordon prevented Brandur Hendriksson’s well-struck left-footed effort finding the top corner, from roughly the same distance as where Dor Peretz opened the scoring against Scotland on Sunday night. Fortunately, Gordon’s intervention prevented an embarrassing score flash from Hampden Park.
Without a crowd, one had to imagine the Tartan Army getting restless – undoubtedly, they would have been. The Faroes were everything Clarke predicted. Well organised, athletic and possessing a real and present danger at set pieces in the lofty form of 6ft 7in centre-half Sonni Ragnar Nattestad, who currently plays with Dundalk in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
Scotland probed, looked neat and tidy in spells, but failed at first to create enough scoring chances. Dykes and Adams barely had a chance between them in the opening 45 minutes and a slightly desperate appeal for a penalty when the latter fell over in the box a minute or so before half-time summed things up.
At least Scotland were still in front at the interval but this could – and should – have changed shortly afterwards when Gordon spilled a cross from Hallur Hansson. Luckily for the hosts Joan Edmundsson failed to gather. It was a let-off, no doubt.
But then Scotland turned the screw and took advantage of the tiring Faroese, who, like Scotland, have faced three games in seven days. McGinn made it 2-0 at the same end as he scored his overhead kick equaliser against Austria in the first of these outings. He used his head this time to convert Tierney’s inch perfect cross after 52 minutes. Seven minutes later Adams scored the goal he so desperately wanted.
Ryan Fraser made it four with 20 minutes left after Robertson had got in on the act by providing an assist from the left. It was the diminutive Newcastle United player’s third goal in three outings for Scotland – but the first with his head.