Why blunt Scotland's Euro 2024 issues escalated in Gibraltar as victory brings injury and striking concerns

Seven-game winless run is ended in Faro – but this was far from a pretty assignment

Relax everyone, it’s only Germany a week on Friday. Everything will be alright on the night. That remains the hope, and Scotland's aversion to friendlies is well established.

A win is a win, of course. And Steve Clarke's side were in dire need of one after seven matches without a victory. But there was much for the manager to ponder from his seat in the stand.

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It wasn't quite how Ross McCorie would have dreamed of winning his first international cap. Singing Flower of Scotland in a near empty stadium. He wasn’t even wearing the famous dark blue. Scotland debuted their new second strip, with the colour described as “light blue mint”.

Ryan Christie of Scotland celebrates scoring his team's first goal against Gibraltar.Ryan Christie of Scotland celebrates scoring his team's first goal against Gibraltar.
Ryan Christie of Scotland celebrates scoring his team's first goal against Gibraltar.

Still, it will all get real enough soon enough for McCrorie and co, although as it stands, one player, perhaps two if Clarke opts to replace Lyndon Dykes, won’t be touching down in Germany on Sunday. Sadly, Clarke might not even have a decision to make. Liam Cooper limped off here towards the end following a heavy challenge. It's now a case of wait and see with him.

As one of only two right wing-backs, McCrorie isn't in any danger of being ejected, although there was little he could do to impress here against such moderate opposition. That was the problem. What represented success? A multi-goal victory? Simply completing the match without any fresh injury headaches? Well, even that low bar was not met – Cooper, a half-time substitute for Grant Hanley, hobbled off after 77 minutes following a knee-on-knee collision.

Alarmingly, Scotland toiled here against a team of mostly semi-professionals. The 650 or so travelling Scotland fans were fairly forgiving in the end but if Clarke’s side are struggling to break down the opposition in this kind of fixture, what on earth is going to happen against the Euro 2024 hosts in the Allianz Arena? Ryan Christie eventually broke the deadlock – yes, deadlock – when lashing into the net after 59 minutes following a goalmouth scramble.

It was Scotland’s first goal since Stuart Armstrong scored just before the hour mark in the 3-3 draw with Norway back in November. Che Adams came on to lend a hand and thumped in a volley to make it 2-0 after John McGinn’s lofted assist. The Southampton striker needs a Handle with Care tag clipped to him ahead of the coming days. He is becoming increasingly essential to Scotland's ambitions. Clarke has no other option to lead the line.

Jaylan Hankins of Gibraltar makes a save from John McGinn of Scotland.Jaylan Hankins of Gibraltar makes a save from John McGinn of Scotland.
Jaylan Hankins of Gibraltar makes a save from John McGinn of Scotland.

Lawrence Shankland huffed and puffed while posting another blank here. He looked to have forgotten the shooting boots he wears with such prodigious success at Hearts. One is careful not to venerate Dykes too much, with the danger being that he becomes a better player every time he doesn’t play. But he was missed here and, as Clarke has already made clear, his absence will be sorely felt in Germany. Scotland have no one quite like him.

While the opposition they were up against might not have been up to much, the competition between Scotland players is fierce. It needs to be. Each squad member knows they might not get many other chances to play in a major finals. There was a danger of playing their way out as well as in here on the Algarve, where work began in earnest at the start of a potentially historic month for Scotland.

And let’s face it, several might have done so if Clarke had the luxury of being more ruthless. He needs these players. Scotland needs them. But they seem a slightly rum collection of the half-fit and out of form. Hanley made his first international appearance since the win over Spain in March last year and looked understandably heavy legged following only a few run-outs with Norwich City. He should have scored at least once though, heading into the ground and over early on and then seeing another header well saved by Jaylan Hankins, the debutant keeper who plays for a team called Bruno’s Magpies.

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As an approximation of what Scotland can expect when they get to Germany, this wasn't even close. The shouts of the players were audible as Scotland reacquaint themselves with what it was like playing games in the Covid era. As for the standard of opposition, well, Scotland are set to play the cream of European football. Gibraltar are the worst but one team on the continent. Some wondered why Clarke had taken this match with the days disappearing before next Friday’s appointment with Germany, which was and, indeed, is a fair question to ask.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson swings in a corner.Scotland captain Andy Robertson swings in a corner.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson swings in a corner.

Goalkeeper Zander Clark spent most of the first half staring into the distance, like a coastguard scanning the horizon on one of the nearby beaches. He was called into action at the end of the first half when Ethan Britto held off Ryan Porteous before getting a shot away. Clark gathered at his near post. One player in his 40s did play but it wasn’t Craig Gordon. Grey-haired Gibraltar veteran Lee Casciaro, 42, appeared as a substitute in the second half. It was barely worth Gordon coming on in any case. He didn’t want to break the record of Scotland’s oldest player in such a nothing match.

It was, in essence, a training game but then training games have their own form of jeopardy, as Scotland know to their cost. Dykes’ Euro 2024 dream has been extinguished because he was injured after a slip shortly after Clarke’s squad began preparations last week.

Kenny McLean received a sore blow to the leg in the first half and spent a couple of minutes limping around and then James Forrest was felled by a sore looking kick from Ayoub El Hmidi. Just when it looked as if Scotland had managed to escape unscathed, Cooper fell in a heap on the turf. It doesn’t rain, it pours for Clarke. It might be the Algarve, but that phrase still applies.

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