Lawrence Shankland has earned Euro 2024 place as Scotland equaliser shows Hearts striker will be needed in Germany
It was already somewhat mystifying why he wasn’t named in Steve Clarke's latest squad in the first place. But credit to the manager, who was not only quick to call up the Hearts striker after losing the injured Che Adams, but then also pushed him on the park ahead of Jacob Brown with the challenge to save the game for a Scotland side trailing 2-1 at that point.
A double from the brilliant Napoli winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia seemed set to ensure that another goal from the unstoppable Scott McTominay would prove meaningful only for being the first-ever scored by Scotland in Georgia. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Clarke’s 50 games as manager it's that his team should never be discounted.
They showed fortitude in Oslo in the summer when coming back from 1-0 to score twice in the dying minutes, and the players demonstrated such burning desire again here when it might have been easier to simply shrug their shoulders and conclude that, well, it's Tbilisi and losing is what Scotland do.
Not on Clarke's watch, they don't. And not when he's marking a half-century of matches in charge, though it's not as if he had been counting.
"I didn't even know until someone told me about 30 seconds ago," Clarke said on the eve of this fixture. Shankland might have been wondering if the manager was similarly oblivious to the minutes ticking down as he sat kicking his heels on the bench. Scotland had already made four changes.
Shankland was finally sent on to replace Lyndon Dykes with four minutes of regulation time left. It was a tall order to expect him to do anything in this tight time frame but seven added minutes offered a little more room to manoeuvre. Three minutes into time added on he found some wriggle space and escaped the attention of Georgian defender Aleksandre Kalandadze to head in a pinpoint curling cross from fellow substitute Stuart Armstrong to secure what felt like a triumphant draw.
Even though the chance of matching Spain’s points total at the top of Group A now seem slim, the goal stemmed Scotland’s run of three consecutive defeats before a meeting with Norway at Hampden on Sunday. If the hosts win by two or more goals they are in Pot Two at the Euro 2024 draw next month. A one-goal win, or a defeat or a draw, and it’s Pot Three.
So Shankland’s goal could prove valuable over and above what it might mean for him personally with regards to his whereabouts next summer.
Remarkably, it is over four years since the striker scored his first and, until this cameo, his last goal for his country, in a 6-0 win over San Marino. He has since joined Hearts via Dundee United and Beerschot and has matured to the extent that he is now skipper at Tynecastle. His international ambitions remained frustratingly underdeveloped despite continuing to score regularly at club level, with five in his last five outings for Hearts. It’s likely Scotland will need his poaching instincts against the quality teams they will encounter in Germany.
Worryingly, Georgia could still be among possible opponents. Willy Sagnol’s awkward side can still qualify for the European Championships through the Nations League C play-off path. Scotland may not have seen the last of them yet.
Georgia have been on hand to deal out regular doses of reality to Scotland. But the visitors have finally broken what looked set to be a familiar eight-year cycle of woe following traumatic defeats in 2007 and 2015. The class of 2023 had other ideas – eventually. After wearing maroon and blue shirts on their last two visits, Scotland tried a white top on this occasion and found it to their liking.
Georgia played – and looked – like an old school eastern European team. Socks were rolled down while their appetite for mischief was very much up.
Pony-tailed midfielder Giorgi Kochorashvili employed every trick in the book. He was still at it after 82 minutes when, having scythed down McTominay at the price of just a booking, he pretended the midfielder had struck out at him.
It took 13 minutes for goalkeeper Zander Clark to get his first feel of the ball on his competitive debut, and just another two before he was having to retrieve it from the net. Giorgi Chakvetadze switched the play and Otar Kakabadze scampered down the right before delivering a sumptuous cross that Kvaratskhelia slid in with the aid of the slick pitch to meet ahead of Ryan Porteous.
Scotland, playing with four at the back owing to the loss of Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson, looked spooked. Clark did well to beat away a shot from Levan Shengelia. Dykes saw a header dribble past the far post from a Billy Gilmour free-kick.
Clarke, who was criticised for changing things too late in Oslo before having the last laugh, made two changes at half-time, to the surprise of some. Gilmour and Ryan Christie were off for Kenny McLean and Lewis Ferguson. Scotland were level four minutes later after McTominay punched a shot inside the unsighted Giorgi Mamardashvili’s near post after McLean’s lay-off.
Parity was enjoyed for just eight minutes. Georgia scored again courtesy of a majestic footballer who Scotland will wish they could bundle on the plane to Germany with them next summer.
Kvaratskhelia jinked inside Patterson before unleashing a shot that evaded Porteous and rocketed into the corner past Clark. Ferguson spurned a chance to equalise with a header from a John McGinn cross before Shankland showed him how it was done, with an immaculate finish beyond Mamardashvili that sparked a cathartic outpouring of joy in such a beautiful, blighted city. It was as if Scotland still needed that point to qualify.
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