Scotland fail in promotion bid against Israel after second consecutive defeat
Steve Clarke will have conflicting emotions as he says farewell to his players at the start of a near four-month break.
It could have been much worse, it could have been a lot better. Momentum has stalled, as has the action. Scotland do not now play again until March and will do so on the back of consecutive defeats
A day after the Under-21s failed to qualify for the European championships after falling to defeat in Greece, the A side brought some further deflation. It is slightly discombobulating after the recent high.
Somehow Scotland managed to cede ground to Czech Republic at the top of Group B2, a team they have beaten twice in this Nations League section. After sealing qualification for a major finals last week, Clarke’s latest miracle failed to materialise as Scotland were thwarted in their bid for promotion in the promised land after a winner late in the first-half from the impressive Manor Solomon.
Yes, they should have had a penalty at the end when Eli Dasa handled but even had that kick been converted – and Scotland don’t tend to miss penalties these days – it would not have been enough to put themselves in line for a World Cup play-off.
This game seemed to suffer for its proximity to the greatest night in the Scotland men’s team’s recent history. This was, essentially, another cup final, and yet it lacked the nervous energy of that evening in Serbia.
Clarke had sought to press home this truth on the eve of the match. Forget about the Euros, he warned. He batted away questions about whether old coaching colleagues such as Jose Mourinho or Ruud Gullit had been in touch to offer their congratulations. A doughty son of Ayrshire, he is well aware of the Burns line about the best laid schemes o’ mice and men. At least there’s still a Euro a 2020 place for a’ that.
The old brigade from Belgrade were unable to conjure up another glory night. The same XI that featured against Serbia lasted only an hour here before Leigh Griffiths and Oli McBurnie were brought on in a sign that things were definitely not going to plan.
Not in Netanya, nor in Plzen, where Czech Republic had taken a 2-0 lead. Oli Burke’s introduction was a further indication that it had reached the point of desperation as Clarke threw caution to the wind, not something that comes naturally to the Scotland manager.
What a time it would have been for McBurnie to open his international account although in reality, Scotland needed more than just a single goal by this stage. They needed two.
Scott McKenna, who replaced Declan Gallagher at the same time as Burke swapped with Stephen O’Donnell, actually came closest to scoring with a header. Griffiths later squirted a half-volley wide.
It was hard not to reflect on that defeat to Slovakia a few days earlier and wonder what might have been. Defeat for a much-changed Scotland side in Trnava meant there was no margin for error against Israel, who will feel they were owed this result against Scotland after being the better side in both previous meetings this year. Indeed, Scotland might have performed better than on those occasions here. They certainly created more chances.
Christie, whose emotional interview following the Serbia game is still circulating on social media, was once again honest, perhaps overly so, when staying on his feet after being clipped by clubmate Nir Bitton on the edge of the box in the first few minutes. The idea of a Scotland side without Christie now seems almost unthinkable.
While he was at the heart of everything, it wasn’t enough. One of only three players to start all three games of this latest international ‘break’, he was a willing foil for Lyndon Dykes while never neglecting his midfield responsibilities. Such are his energy levels, you imagine he will be doing the same this weekend when in the hoops of Celtic against Hibs, when he will be again looking to beat Ofir Marciano.
Israel took control in the early stages after a bright start from Scotland. The visitors could not impose themselves until towards the end of the first half when they came so close to taking a lead. With news filtering through of Czech Republic’s opener against Slovakia, the onus was very much on Scotland to make a breakthrough.
They came close through the efforts of O’Donnell of all players. Although the Motherwell wing-back’s shot, after he was nicely teed up by Ryan Jack, went well wide in the end, it could well have been steered in by a Scotland teammate, one of whom, Callum McGregor, could not react in time.
Scott McTominay then found himself further forward than is normal in a Scotland shirt. He whipped in a pacey cross from the right which left John McGinn only required to provide it with some direction towards the top far corner of the Israel goal, something he did with a flick of his head. He turned to see Marciano, his old Hibscolleague, pull off a terrific one-handed save to turn the ball over the bar. Scotland have been cursed by some remarkable goalkeeping in recent days. Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodakmade a similarly acrobatic stop to prevent Kenny McLean’s header beating him on Sunday. These interventions have proved extremely costly in the final analysis.
Marciano’s save certainly proved so here when Israel edged ahead shortly afterwards. The goal was mostly down to individual brilliance from Solomon but it was also a reminder that McTominay is still only finding his feet as a right centre-back at international level. Scotland, too, remain a work in progress.
Solomon easily beat the Manchester United player with a cute feint before drilling a left-footed shot into David Marshall’s far corner.