From misery to happiness, Scotland is on its way to Krakow to take part in one of the biggest games of the Steve Clark era. Tuesday night against Ukraine will be the last action in their group in the Nations League. From summer to autumn, Scotland has changed.
The 3-1 World Cup loss to Ukraine was answered with a 3-0 win against the same team last week. A 3-0 loss to Republic in Ireland in June was met with a narrow 2-1 win in the reverse fixture on Saturday night.Read:Lucas Paqueta reveals bet with Bruno Guimaraes when Newcastle United take on West Ham
Scotland scored a goal and conceded six goals in those previous matches and conceded one, while it scored five goals last week. Throwback was impressive and full of stories, the last of which was written in Poland.
The person who started the Scotland revival on Saturday was Jack Hendry, a center back who has played just 97 minutes of club football this season, for two different teams in two different countries – Belgium and Italy.
If he felt unsettled in his day job, that would be understandable, but he was a rockstar when his country needed him against Ireland. The equalizing header from Ryan Christie’s superb cross was his third goal in his 19 international matches. Colin, whose namesake and fellow quarterback, scored the same at 51.Read:England v South Africa: third Test, day five – live | England v South Africa 2022
Those storylines? Steve Clark was positively joking at his press conferences for a start. Nobody saw it coming.
Lyndon Dykes scored twice in 13 minutes of a must-have international match against Ukraine, more than he scored in his last 26 hours with QPR. Explain that.
Craig Gordon spent a sleepless night in hospital on Friday awaiting the happy arrival of his infant son, but the Hearts goalkeeper was shining like a button when he made a crucial save from Troy Parrott in a 1-1 draw. Gordon is 39 years old and yet ageless.
Before the team was announced, Scotland lost one full-back to captain, Andy Robertson. Against Ukraine, they lost another when Nathan Patterson was fired. On Saturday, they lost third to Kieran Tierney and fourth to Aaron Hickey – but they’re still stronger in the game. A kind of plague has struck Scotland, all the Premier League players. However, the team has suffered.
Clark said Tierney and Hickey’s withdrawal was a precaution. “Don’t worry, I don’t think.” The defensive mind of both men will be needed in Krakow. Ukraine made 11 changes in Saturday’s 5-0 win over Armenia and some of the figures who kicked out Scotland in June have re-emerged from the start – Vitaly Mykolenko, Viktor Tsygankov and Roman Yarimchuk.Read:Pakistan vs England: 4th International Men’s T20 Championship – Live Updates | Pakistan vs England 2022
Very influential in the World Cup semi-final, Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko is still injured.
These last two games told us a lot about the maturity of Clark’s players. The Ukraine match was very frustrating for them for 70 minutes. All those opportunities and no breakthrough. At no point did they panic or lose heart.
At no time did it look like they would become another entry on the list of suckers who were punished for failing to take their chances when they got them. Their faith remained, their strength increased and they comfortably triumphed.
Saturday night was different. Ireland were excellent in the first half. They took the lead and deserved it. They had better midfield and stopped all the Scotland men.
At the break, it looked suspicious. Even at the start of the second half, Clark’s players gave the ball cheaply three times in the first few minutes. Is Hendry and Kristi all that.
Slowly but surely, Scotland’s midfield has come to the fore. It was a win. He fought hard. They were in a hole and got out. If Ukraine’s victory is about class, it’s about character, overcoming their shortcomings at night, and staying calm.
In the summer, Scotland fell 1-0 in Dublin and collapsed. There was a completely different mindset in adversity on Saturday. Clark had a right to be excited. His players are getting smarter.
Ukraine needs no other incentive than to play for its people in wartime, but they will have that added advantage no matter what Scotland did to them last week. We can only imagine what this emotional hiding would do to them – they removed some frustration on poor Armenia.
You imagine Ukraine on Tuesday would be very different from what we last saw in Hampden.
Scotland will be different, too. Scott McTominay received a silly yellow card against Ireland and will miss the match due to suspension. Given that Kenny McClain has outpaced Billy Gilmore and Ryan Jack in the last two games, it’s a safe bet the Norwich City player will get the nod.
It’s a sign of his whereabouts with the club that Gilmore will likely be at the back of the queue. He has played one minute of club football since mid-May. He’s still only 21, but these are worrying times for the midfielder.
Clarke will be quietly happy with the impact of the bench in these matches. Talking about strength in depth is one thing, but seeing it realized in stressful situations is quite another.
Among those submarines, Ryan Fraser has had a huge impact. It may start on Tuesday. Three games a week is a somewhat old-fashioned physical burden on some players Clark and Stewart Armstrong, who has only started once in the league for Southampton this season, is one of them.
It’s the beauty of the center that Clark is in. He’s without Grant Hanley, John Sutter, William Cooper at center back and Robertson and then Patterson at full-back and the team conceded one goal (admittedly) in 180 minutes.
It’s been a wonderful month. Only one point is needed now to win the group, to achieve promotion to the next Nations League roster, and to qualify for the Euro 2024 playoff, if necessary. One game, but a lot of riding on it.