This was a tonic for Scotland’s wilting World Cup hopes. However, it was far from the swashbuckling, multi-goal display that might have been expected on a significant night and against such lowly opponents as Moldova were overcome 1-0.
The returning fans reacted with a mix of applause and some audible booing. Teenager Patterson and Gilmour, just 20, were exempt from any criticism – the latter earned man of the match, again. They gave a very decent-sized crowd of just over 40,000 in the southside of Glasgow something to cheer. It wasn’t plane sailing, however. Far from it. Moldova used the five minutes of injury-time to press Scotland back.
Mild insurrection was in the air on an evening when all roads had led to Hampden once again.
Credit or debit cards were required if fans wanted to buy something from a kiosk as the old stadium continues to try and move with the times in this Covid-era.
In truth, a near two-year break from hosting crowds of a significant size has not been kind to the dear old place. It still looks a bit shabby, something that was very noticeable during the recent Euros. Denmark’s Parken stadium, where Scotland were handed something of a lesson last Wednesday night, showed what a modern ground could and should be like.
The SFA sought to jazz things up a bit with a rather lame light show. Gimmicks were not required in any case. Just hearing the fans singing again was enough. Even the return of the mass Loch Lomond singalong at half-time could be endured on the basis that it’s been a while since this has been inflicted on eardrums.
What a thrill to have these slopes populated by the Tartan Army again. What a boost they gave the team in the early stages although Moldova proving so unhelpfully resistant to being put to the sword meant not everyone was completely satisfied.
Even the grumbles felt like music to the ears after such a long time being forced to play in a soulless bowl. Moldova were redoubtable enough to make it interesting, as Steve Clarke had warned would be the case. They might even have equalised on the stroke of half-time but Jack Hendry intervened to deflect Maxim Potirniche’s header just over. When the half-time whistle sounded the home players walked off to applause even though they had failed to build on an opener after 14 minutes from Lyndon Dykes, who ended an international goal drought stretching back a dozen games.
It was, though, all down to Patterson, whose inclusion had so excited the crowd. Skipper Igor Armas gifted the Rangers full back possession, and he did not need to think twice before haring down the wing before playing a one-two with Kevin Nisbet. It looked certain he would augment his full debut with a goal but the goalkeeper Christian Avram managed to scoop the ball away, only for Dykes to beat Potirniche to the loose ball. It was the early breakthrough Scotland thought they needed.
A hold-up at the start as the referee was told to postpone kick-off to synchronise with television simply ramped up the anticipation. Gilmour eventually got the ball rolling, taking his first kick as a fully-fledged Scotland player at Hampden from the centre spot. Clarke had cautioned media and fans alike against expecting the world from the 20-year-old but as he waited patiently in the centre-circle it seemed as if everything was already revolving around him.
He settled into the game like a veteran while making a belated Hampden bow. It would have happened against Croatia in those high times of early summer, when everything and anything seemed possible. A positive Covid test following the 0-0 draw with England nixed that idea but he is someone who is set to be around for a while. This, surely, is just the start of a Hampden love affair with the little No.4
Patterson, meanwhile, was everything his manager wanted him to be on the right. Aggressive, enterprising, he even tried to chip his opposite man near his own 18 yard-box. You don’t get that with Stephen O’Donnell.
There was a moment in the second half that pointed to the promise of this new Scotland, a one-two between Patterson and Gilmour that ended with the latter player side-footing just wide. The night sky would have been split asunder with the roar that would have greeted that goal.
In the end, Gilmour received the ovation his efforts deserved when he was taken off after 73 minutes to preserve him for Tuesday’s critical trip to Vienna.
It said everything that the replacement of a 20-year-old prompted some trepidation. Would we cope against a team ranked 177 in the world in the remaining 13 minutes?
It must be recorded that the Scots struggled to shake off Moldova. Anxiety grew. A win is a win but when it reaches midway through the second-half and it’s still only 1-0 against the bottom seeds, it’s natural for some restlessness to be apparent. This wasn’t what the fans had waited so long to experience. This wasn’t why they were coming down the road again.
Clarke will argue that the three points is all that matters. He will point to Denmark only beating the Faroe Isles 1-0.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light, far from it. When Ryan Christie blazed over towards the end with the goal at his mercy, someone bellowed: “That’s why you play for Bournemouth now!” It was harsh but comforting. It’s so good to have the Tartan Army back.