Alan Pattullo looks back on a successful trip for the Tartan Army after a 1-0 friendly win in Prague.
Allan McGregor is capable of winning his No 1 status back
Mired in more personal drama, few perhaps expected McGregor to make such a spirited return to prominence as a Scotland goalkeeper. But he was the difference between a win and a defeat on Thursday night, time and time again deflecting efforts from Czech Republic players as the hosts battled to overturn Ikechi Anya’s early goal. His diving save in the second half from Kolar’s header was particularly impressive.
His heroics probably conspired to keep Scott Bain kicking his heels on the sidelines; Gordon Strachan probably reasoned that he risked losing a game he stressed pre-match he wanted desperately to win if he opted to change goalkeepers for the sake of changing them.
McGregor was in inspired form and it would have done Bain no favours had he replaced him and then erred to hand Czech Republic a draw, or, worse, a win. Bain will have benefitted from the experience of being away with a Scotland squad in any case and from training with someone like McGregor. Despite everything, the Hull goalkeeper is surely in line to move ahead of both David Marshall and Craig Gordon in the ultra-competitive battle to be Scotland’s first-choice goalkeeper.
Andy Robertson isn’t necessarily a stick-on at left back
One of the less positive conclusions to be drawn from Thursday’s outing is that Robertson, one of few truly promising Scottish players to emerge in recent times, is not by some distance the finished article. The news perhaps offers fresh hope to the likes of Rangers left-back Lee Wallace, considered by some to be a controversial exclusion from Strachan’s two squads for these friends.
Still only 22, that Robertson still has some developing to do shouldn’t be headline news. Of course he still had much to learn, and will do so at Hull City, with whom he might yet book a return to the Premier League this season.
But he was too often wasteful in possession on Thursday, while it was notable that Czech Republic often opted to take short corners on Robertson’s side of the pitch, having clearly identified a weakness.
Strachan chose to replace Robertson with Matt Phillips before the hour mark. The left back was guilty of giving away possession too many times, hence Charlie Mulgrew moving back to take his place. There’s nothing too seriously worrying in what is hopefully a one-off below par performance. But there’s clearly a reason why Strachan is hesitant about playing Robertson in games when he knows the slightly built left back will be put under pressure.
Despite setbacks Tartan Army are as passionate as ever
Some might have feared that the appetite for a friendly clash a few days before Easter might be low among fans who are still coming to terms with the fact they will be on the outside looking in come the Euro 2016 finals.
A few less turned up than was predicted – over 2,000 tickets were sold for the game, but travel plans being affected by the Brussels bombings meant not everyone made it to the Generali Arena. But those who were present – and a more than healthy 1500 or so made the trip – underlined why Strachan is so desperate to deliver them to a major finals.
About the only time they stopped singing was for a minute silence to Johan Cruyff before kick-off. Otherwise they were back in the usual routine, taking up where they left off against Gibralatar, when 11,000 fans cheered Strachan’s name. This time they offered stout support to the whole team, who responded well to the backing. But more tangible payback in the shape of qualification for a major finals is long overdue.
Ikechi Anya is a gem
In the run-up to the Czech Republic game Strachan spoke of his desire to find someone who can beat two players, create something out of nothing and “smack the ball into the net”. No one is saying Anya is Kenny Dalglish, or even James McFadden, but he is at least someone who can generate fear in opponents with his pace, trickery and scoring ability.
And he’s been around for a while now, so Strachan’s already found him. Anya’s goal on Thursday was his third in 18 appearances – hardly Denis Law-like stats, but a decent enough return from someone whose principal job is to create openings for others. His finish in Prague was composure defined and it was his assist from which Matt Phillips should have scored a header late on.
Ross McCormack: it’s good to have you back
He sounded fairly cool about him afterwards, but Gordon Strachan was surely not peeved by McCormack’s success in illustrating why many felt it was ridiculous he wasn’t named in the original friendly squad(s).
If he wasn’t prepared to admit he might have got it wrong then why did Strachan give McCormack a jersey in preference to Tony Watt, who many expected would fill the striker berth from the start.
Craig Brown once used to give players whose case for inclusion was being backed by fans a start so they could play themselves out of contention. If this was Strachan’s intention with McCormack – and surely it was not – then it didn’t happen. Rather, the Fulham striker offered a reminder of his worth, underlining how ridiculous it is that he was been absent from international football for two years, particularly at a time when Strachan believes we have lacked those able to make things happen from almost nothing.
This is what McCormack managed on Thursday. Although he did not come as close to scoring as many hoped, he created Anya’s goal with some vision combined with neat footwork. Indeed, his deft touch was a joy to behold in the 78 minutes he was on the pitch. Don’t ignore him for so long again, Gordon.
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