Scotland stumbled at the final hurdle while seeking to complete a full calendar year unbeaten for the first time since 1970. It would have been a small crumb of comfort in any case.
Malky Mackay inherited a seven-match unbeaten run from Gordon Strachan. However, Dick Advocaat’s side ensured what could prove Mackay’s one and only match in charge of the national side ended in defeat. Stewart Regan, the Scottish Football Association chief executive, confirmed the interim manager was not being considered for the full-time post in an interview yesterday.
Scotland were stung by a breakaway goal five minutes before half-time from the Dutch finished off by Olympique Lyon’s Memphis Depay.
A team dominated by Scots-based players did their best to lift the gloom following failure to reach this summer’s World Cup. There were some positives to warm a crowd of nearly 18,000 on a cold night at Pittodrie.
Ryan Fraser, an Aberdonian, almost scored shortly after coming midway through the second-half, a brilliant first touch taking him past Bournemouth team-mate Nathan Ake. His eventual shot flashed just past Japser Cillessen’s post. Fellow substitute Jason Cummings, one of four Scotland debutants, should have equalised with his first touch four minutes from the end after being teed up by Matt Phillips. Cummings’ shot was too near the goalkeeper.
Skipper Kieran Tierney almost broke the deadlock in the first-half after bursting forward from centre-back but saw his 20-yard shot beaten away by Cillessen.
The experiment of moving Phillips from wing to centre-forward did not pay off and underlined how lacking in options Scotland are when unable to call on Leigh Griffiths, who was unavailable due to injury.
The match was barely underway before it had to be stopped by referee Ruddy Buquet. It took three balls before one deemed to be have been blown up enough was found. There was no more perfect metaphor for the deflating times being experienced by both countries. Not so long ago Scotland meeting the Netherlands in a World Cup play-off looked a realistic possibility. Instead this was a clash of World Cup outcasts in a stadium where Scotland tend to take games that are either lacking appeal or are marking new eras.
Last night ticked both boxes. The Dutch are in a deeper funk having failed to qualify for two successive tournaments for the first time since the 1980s. Apathy was starkly illustrated by the numbers following the Netherlands. Normally guaranteed to take thousands with them, a hundred or so at best were scattered around the Pittodrie away section.
The home crowd was healthier, lured, perhaps, by the presence of two Aberdeen players in the starting line up in Ryan Christie and Kenny McLean. Aberdonian Ryan Jack, meanwhile, was one of three debutants in the starting XI, along with Christie and Callum McGregor.
Deployed at right back in front of the south stand, Jack found his first few touches jeered by unforgiving Aberdeen fans upset by his summer move to rivals Rangers.
Phillips was conspicuous in the opening stages as he sought to carry out the interim manager’s instructions.
He was at the heart of Scotland’s best chance of the half, driving into the box before seeing his shot blocked by Karim Rekik. The danger was not cleared but James Forrest took slightly too long to take aim and when he did, his effort was deflected by Ake.
Scotland were finding some cheer from long balls from Tierney down the middle of the Dutch defence. Phillips should have fared better when collecting one of them but delayed his shot and allowed Cillessen to make a good block at his near post.
Otherwise, it was fairly thin gruel for the home fans until a smattering of half-chances towards the end.
McGregor looked lively playing just behind Phillips. However, it was his short pass – admittedly played as far down the pitch as the right hand edge of the Dutch box – that placed Scotland in trouble on the way to conceding the decisive goal in the 40 th minute.
The Netherlands quickly broke up-field, Memphis Depay off loading to Georginio Wijnaldum and carrying on his run into the box.
Such athleticism mixed with desire meant he was in place to turn in Ryan Babel’s eventual cross at the far post. There was a suspicion of offside over Babel and also Memphis, who nevertheless side-footed the ball past Craig Gordon.
Still, it was the sort of sweeping move that stirred memories of better Dutch teams and better times for the Oranje. A young Scotland side, meanwhile, offered glimpses of hope, specifically in the shape of John McGinn and McGregor and, to a lesser extent, Christie, while Tierney underlined why he is considered Scotland’s shining star.