Scotland continue wretched friendly record as John McGinn-inspired fightback falls short in Turkey
In Turkey, though, another pattern could not be altered as his team succumbed to a 2-1 defeat. Friendly contests are entitled to put the fear of God into the Tartan Army. The creation of the Nations League has resulted in these largely disappearing from the international calendar - the latest was only the nation’s fifth in four years - and those of a Scotland disposition will say amen to that. It could be no other way when the inability of Clarke’s men to use a powerful second half rally to undo the damage of two goals conceded inside a passive and impoverished 48 minutes extends Scotland’s grim record in such contests to two wins in 15. Thank the Lord they don’t matter.
Well, don’t really matter. John McGinn is sure to be grateful that goals netted in them count towards players’ international scoring totals following the attacker’s latest lethal moment for his country. A moment that inspired a stirring fightback that will help ameliorate the halting of a four-match unbeaten run for Clarke’s side.
Scotland were in desperate need of inspiration when the Aston Villa captain provided it in spades with a 15th goal for his country after 62 minutes of an unsatisfying evening. A haul that means now only six players have scored more in the history of the Scotland national side. There appeared little on when the ball was laid-off to him by Andy Robertson on the left channel inside his own half. But McGinn had other ideas, staying upright like a Weeble when barged to the point of wobblying before rebalancing and haring forward. Ahead of slamming a low, angled effort in at the far post with sumptuous precision. His arm-waving, and “come on” exhortions to his team-mates that formed his celebrations were heeded, but despite heaping pressure on a Turkey who had breezed the match-up till then, an equaliser proved elusive on a night of notable firsts.
Wherein one expected from a Scotland perspective also did not materialise. The crackle created by the home crowd belied the game’s friendly billing. Accounting for the excitment levels was the obvious delight of the Diyarbakır denizens that their city in the south-east of the vast expanse that is Turkey had finally been allowed to host their national team. A troubled history wrapped up in the state’s treatment of the region’s Kurdish majority behind the wait.
Meanwhile, Clarke created his own first with the starting XI line-up he selected. One that no-one had predicted. By going for seasoned performers throughout, it made for the first time across his tenure he had fielded such an experienced line-up. Reflected in the fact that 15 caps, Billy Gilmour was the player with fewest appearances at international level. The impact of that call from the Scotland manager was that a starting debut for Calvin Ramsay did not materialise. In reverting to a 3-4-2-1, instead he chose to deploy Ryan Fraser in the right wing-back role. Not a natural berth for the Newcastle United winger, that showed. Resulting in Ramsay replacing him to make his senior Scotland bow at half-time.
Fraser’s struggles to impose himself could have been related to the fact he had enjoyed no minutes on the field for the surging St James’s Park club. And that many players in Scotland colours endured the same difficulties across the first period as Turkey proved the dominant team - and should have had more than one goal to show for their superiority - pointed to a concerning development. Only a smattering of Scotland’s first XI could be considered nailed-down first picks at club level - captain Andy Robertson, Craig Gordon, Grant Hanley and Lyndon Dykes. Performers considered major talents in a Scotland context - John McGinn, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay and Gilmour - do not currently hold that status in their day jobs.
Perhaps that explained the tentativeness from Clarke’s men that the home side appeared to sense as they took charge. They should have taken the lead only 18 minutes in when Ozan Kabak passed up a glorious headed chance in sending it on to the bar. The scares came all-too-frequently for Scotland with Craig Gordon required to make a couple of smart stops as his backline creaked. A particular vulnerability from aerial set-ups became evident, indeed, before Turkey eventually capitalised on one of their many such opportunities five minutes from the break.
A free-kick proved its origin with Hanley harshly penalised for a tussle with Everton’s Cenk Tosun 25 yards from goal. It was unforgivable what followed, though, with the delivery from Hakan Çalhanoglu allowing Ozan Kabak to nod in under no real pressure, with Hanley and McTominay failing to get tight enough. All too easy, all too much of a gift.
The second period began in the same fashion. Only three minutes into it, Stuart Armstrong lacked strength in being hustled out of possession on the edge of the Turkey box. That set in motion a lightning counter that ended with Cengiz Ünder deftly passing the ball through the legs of substitute Scott McKenna to find the corner of the net. Scotland appeared then ripe for a real juicing, and deserve credit for refusing to allow themselves to be squeezed in such fashion. It could even be ventured they were possibly unfortunate that McGinn’s superb strike proved their only reward across a closing half in which they stepped up several levels in taking the encounter to their adept hosts. They showed real gumption during those passages. Just not enough before it was too late.
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