Daily Record


Conor’s goal after Dutch defeat was when pain really kicked in for Scots


THEY say sometimes it’s darkest just before the dawn. Well, let’s hope they know what they’re talking about.

Because what went on here at Hampden last night felt depressing­ly bleak and, yes let’s be honest, more than a little concerning now Scotland are so close to embarking on their German odyssey this summer.

If going down by four goals against the Dutch felt like a numbing experience on Friday night then this is when the pain really registered.

Losing at home to a Northern Ireland side which is so limited for top-level talent it finished the game with Josh Magennis leading the line.

Losing skipper Andy Robertson to a worrying looking injury in the process during a dreadful performanc­e, lacking in all of the energy, imaginatio­n and craft that at least mitigated the embarrassi­ng nature of that scoreline in Amsterdam.

And slamming the tin lid on a run of seven games without a win that has sucked the wind out of Scotland’s sails at the most inconvenie­nt moment.

Steve Clarke may well have endured worse nights in his five years as national boss. But it felt hard to think of any from the moment Liverpool kid Conor Bradley lashed the visitors into a lead they never looked like giving up.

Clarke had hinted heavily he’d limit the number of changes to his starting XI following that late collapse in Holland. And he was as good as his word.

Lyndon Dykes was given the nod to lead his attack, having been left on the bench for 90 minutes in Amsterdam, and Liam Cooper replaced Ryan Porteous in a move that meant Jack Hendry was shifted out onto the righthand side of the manager’s three-man central defence.

With the chance to kick-start some momentum ahead of the serious business this summer, now was not the time to tinker around with things that do not require to be fixed.

He wanted more of the same – a performanc­e high on both intensity and aggression – and three minutes in he got exactly that.

Billy Gilmour ratted out possession deep inside Northern Ireland’s half – just as he did time and again the other night – to send Ryan Christie off and running towards the box.

The Bournemout­h man even had time to raise his head and pick his spot from distance but his effort curled wide of Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s right-hand post and the first chance of the night went with it.

This imprecisio­n in the final third was not a trend Clarke would have been looking to continue.

Had Christie’s effort hit the back of the net then this night would have got off to a flyer. Instead, it all started to feel like a bit of a struggle, even though Scotland had almost all of the ball.

Gilmour was doing his best to quicken the tempo and pick passes from the base of midfield – and he was clattered by Ali McCann with the former St Johnstone man earning a deserved booking. But for the most part, Scotland were struggling to create much more than scraps against an Irish defence with all hands on deck.

There was also a sharp intake of breath on the half-hour mark when skipper Andy Roberston went down in considerab­le distress under a clumsy late tackle from Trai Hume.

It took the Liverpool left-back time to get gingerly back onto his feet and he was still trying to run it off when Scotland conceded a goal to further dampen proceeding­s. Having darted back diligently to snuff out a rare Irish attack, Nathan Patterson tried to be too clever playing his way out of a tight spot on his own byline. Bradley read it, nicked it and then smashed a shot towards goal that deflected off Hendry and into the roof of Angus Gunn’s net.

As the young Liverpool full-back raced off in celebratio­n, his Anfield mentor was hitting the deck again.

Robertson knew at that moment his night was over. The look on his face suggested it might be even worse once the medics have checked him.

And here we were, 1-0 down to the first attack of the night and without our inspiratio­nal skipper who Clarke replaced with Lewis Ferguson,

switching formation to a flat back four in the process. It could have got even worse had Shea Charles hit the target soon after rather than curl one wide.

Scott McTominay tried to lift some flagging spirits before half-time with a shot that flashed wide from distance.

But this was shaping up all rather horribly and a stunned home crowd let Clarke and his players know about it as they headed inside. That Clarke made no further changes during the interval was a surprise.

John McGinn had an early shot from 25 yards but Peacock-Farrell collected comfortabl­y on his line. Gilmour raised even more alarm when he chopped down Brodie Spencer with a late tackle and came out of the collision worse off.

He then sent Ferguson in behind with a raking probe over the top but the Bologna man’s shot was charged down at point-blank range.

Gilmour, who hadn’t been moving freely since his knock, was replaced by Kenny McLean and Che Adams took over from the surprising­ly ineffectua­l Dykes.

Shankland and Armstrong were thrown on for the final stages. The Hearts skipper passed up a couple of half chances with Ferguson heading over.

But ultimately, Scotland got the result they deserved. And that’s the biggest worry of all.

 ?? ?? ReD aleRT Jubilant Bradley mobbed by his mates after grabbing winner for Northern Ireland, above
ReD aleRT Jubilant Bradley mobbed by his mates after grabbing winner for Northern Ireland, above
 ?? WORRYING Crocked off Robertson goes ??
WORRYING Crocked off Robertson goes
 ?? ??
 ?? ?? No go McGinn foiled by goalie Peacock-Farrell
No go McGinn foiled by goalie Peacock-Farrell

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