Craig Fowler gives his take after Scotland keep their World Cup hopes alive with a win over Slovakia.
Scotland never seem to give up hope
Scotland have now scored five goals in the final three minutes of matches at Hampden in this qualification campaign. That’s five of the seven goals they’ve scored at home in total - the other two coming against Malta.
Each one has been more crucial than the last. It’s a lesson in never giving up hope. When Chris Martin netted his late winner against Slovenia, everyone thought it’d be prolonging the inevitable. While that still may be the case, and though we’re sick of the glorious failure tagline, you have to admit this is much better than meekly surrendering and finishing a distant fourth in this group.
It’s going down to the wire.
This nation might have a trustworthy centre-back partnership
Two veteran defenders. One currently at the sixth-place side in League One, one captaining the team in seventh in the Ladbrokes Premiership. It doesn’t exactly scream international class, but that’s three straight games with the duo as the centre-back partnership in a four-man defence and three clean sheets as the reward.
The last time Scotland kept three consecutive clean sheets in competitive international football was way back in 1999. World beaters they may not be, but they make few mistakes, unlike previous partnerships, both on and off the football, and give Scotland enough of a solid foundation from which to build from.
Strachan doubled down on his selection
At half time, everyone was calling for the Scotland boss to change things up. The midfield three of Barry Bannan, Darren Fletcher and James Morrison had served a purpose earlier in the match, pressing the visitors and not letting them get into their rhythm, but with the hosts down to ten men it seemed like a little added drive was required in the engine room. A John McGinn or Callum McGregor, perhaps? But Strachan stuck with the three, only sacrificing Fletcher when his “ear was hanging off”, in the player’s own words, following an elbow to the head. Instead, the manager changed the shape of his side and kept the momentum going with the home team.
Chris Martin is the hero we deserve
Yet again the big striker came off the bench and made an impact for Scotland. His presence allowed Leigh Griffiths to do a bit of drifting, and having that added attacking impetus between Slovakia’s midfield and attack was crucial for the hosts continuing to pin the visitors deep in their own half.
Martin was unlucky not to score with a thunderous effort off the bar, and then unfortunate again not to get an assist when his lovely flick to set up James Morrison ended with Martin Dubravka pulling off another miraculous save. Therefore, it was perhaps fitting that it was the big striker putting pressure on Martin Skrtel, in the last minute of normal time, which eventually saw Scotland break through.
The booing which met his introduction against Slovenia seems like a long time ago.
Apparently, Scotland have some depth in reserve
We didn’t even think we enough quality for a starting XI not so long ago.
With the game entering the final stages, Strachan made one final, minor tactical tweak. It looked like a man-for-man substitution, as Ikechi Anya replaced Kieran Tierney, but it gave Scotland a different threat down the right.
Playing with a narrow 4-4-2, the full-backs were expected to provide the width. Tierney, though, was a little hesitant in the second half about stretching the visitors down the right. He’d rather cut inside on his favoured left foot, often choosing to play a pass. This was fine, but it wasn’t helping to create space in the crowded centre.
Enter Anya. The winger is never shy about getting toward the byline, and it was his breaking run into the box which brought about the crucial winning goal.