Scotland 2 Cyprus 1: Late drama as Oli Burke grabs winner on Steve Clarke's debut

Oliver Burke celebrates his goal with Kenny McLean
Oliver Burke celebrates his goal with Kenny McLean
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It would be easy to start with the myriad, and familiar, deficiencies betrayed by Scotland in Steve Clarke’s first outing.





Ultimately, though, the beginning is in the end; the dramatic, victorious end provided by an 88th minute Oliver Burke winner only 100 seconds after it seemed Cyprus had snatched what would have been a desperately damaging 1-1 draw for Clarke.

Burke pulled both his manager, and his team out of a fire that was licking their ears. If Clarke can conjure successes from sorry situations, then he might be able to build. Boy, though, he won’t want that capacity being tested as it was on Saturday night.

As bright new dawns go, this turned out to be something of a slate grey, cloudy sky with two rays of sunshine – the first a 22-yard screamer of an opening goal from captain Andy Robertson after 61 minutes. Yet, ultimately, these beams will have been shafts to warm Clarke when it looked like an icy chill would blast him. That cold air was supplied by the concession of a horrendous equaliser in 86th minutes when a corner from Anthony Georgiou found Ioannis Kousoulos on his own in the box and he dinked a header into the corner.

That Scotland extricated themselves from this situation in such rapid fashion, courtesy of substitute Burke - introduced for Eamonn Brophy- will allow the narrative to avoid being damning.

Yet in the two minutes ahead of Ryan Fraser sending over an arcing cross that Burke met to send a glancing header cannoning off the post before knocking in the rebound, it seemed an occasion to don the black cap.

Scotland were never going to be transformed in one week by Clarke. There was an expectation they would have more about them than proved, though.

Robertson, one week after becoming a Champions League winner with Liverpool, gave cause for the stadium to erupt in the 61st minute with his third goal for his counter.

It was a product of John McGinn slipping the ball to him on the left flank. The full-back took one touch to bring it under control, before unleashing a crashing angled left-foot drive that was a net-burster from the moment it left his foot.

There was a curiosity about where Scotland found themselves. The Group I encounter was the first game at Hampden since the dramatic evening last November that witnessed Alex McLeish leading the country to a Nations League victory over Israel to claim them top spot in a qualifying section for the first time since 1981.

Which, of course, resulted in him lasting only a few more months in post.

The sense of a fresh beginning under Clarke was always going to have limitations. These were illustrated in the fact that six of the starters last night played in McLeish’s March swansong in San Marino.

There were no selections to make eyes pop, but the decision to start with his former Kilmarnock striker Brophy and give David Marshall a first start in goal for almost three years – at the expense of Scott Bain – might have caused the odd raised eyebrow.

There wasn’t much else that panned out across the opening period to prevent eye-lids becoming a little heavy.

Following an initial spell of Cyprus possession that resulted in the first Tartan Army jeering of the Clarke era after a mere nine minutes, an exasperating pattern developed.

Fraser would hare down the left flank and balloon over crosses that Brophy, a Lilliputian among three giant centre-backs, could only have connected with had he erected scaffold.

There was one bright interchange with Fraser and Callum McGregor that almost produced an opening but these were thin on the ground.

A Charlie Mulgrew free-kick half an hour in that Urko Pardo pushed round the post was the only time that the visiting keeper had to look lively in the opening 45.

In truth, it was all grind and little glitz from Scotland in the second period, save for the stupendous Robertson strike and the late turnaround.

Yet, it would be churlish not to appreciate any win, even one as streaky as this one.

If only for that fact that a failing at the first hurdle for Clarke - who must privately dread Tuesday’s assignment in Belgium - would have made for another heavy helping of wearying pessimism for a national team that seems to permanently bogged down by gloom.

Andy Robertson celebrates his goal

Andy Robertson celebrates his goal