At last, it was the winner a nation was waiting for
A team picked on ability, Strachan’s job saved and optimism in Hampden. Result
HE punter sitting in the posh seats right behind the media rows must have walked away from Hampden Park last night feeling wonderfully sheepish. Chris Martin is nobody’s idea of a new Kenny Dalglish but he didn’t deserve the loud shout of “don’t do it” directed at Gordon Strachan when he was about to make his last substitution of the night, putting on the big front-man for James Morrison. There were even some boos.
And then, all of a sudden, Martin was free inside the area. With two minutes to go, a shattered but magnificent Stuart Armstrong expended the last of his energy to find his team-mate with a pass and the much-maligned Fulham player, on loan from Derby, got his left-foot shot just right.
Scotland have a chance now thanks to a performance we have been waiting for.
If only Gordon Strachan both earlier in this World Cup campaign and in the previous attempt at the European Championship had looked at his squad and said to himself, “You know what, I’m going to pick the team on ability and form”.
It worked last night, it saved Strachan’s job and the national team have something to go for. It’s England next. The game takes place in June, when most of their players will be emotionally on the beach after a long season.
This is what happens when you play the best players available. Kieran Tierney at right-back is a million times better than one of the brightest talents in British football not playing at all. He and Andy Robertson have to start, even if some tinkering is required.
We are not close to being good enough to leave either of them out.
Leigh Griffiths ran the Slovenian defence ragged, hit the woodwork a couple of times and linked up well with his midfield until injury forced him off.
And this was the Celtic man from a disrupted season rather than the player of the year of 12 months ago who was undroppable for his club yet seemingly impossible to pick for his country.
Charlie Mulgrew is our best centrehalf, James Morrison has never let us down and, when Griffiths went off, Strachan went with Steven Naismith, again the right choice. And for one night we looked an international team.
Being fourth in a Champions League group is a hell of a lot better than being a mid-table English Championship side. Let’s hope lessons have been learned. There may have been lots of empty seats inside Hampden Park but those who came along could say their team gave its all.
Within a minute, a punt from Craig Gordon forced a corner, taken by Robert Snodgrass, which would have led to a goal had Jan Oblak not made a smart save to deny Russell Martin.
The crowd may have been on the small size but now they could be heard.
Scotland kept attacking, moving the ball to feet with a pace, precision and confidence that had been lacking in previous games, to the extent Strachan thought his team had taken the lead when Martin’s superb header beat Oblak, only for Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers to, correctly, disallow it for a foul. What was this collective feeling going around Mount Florida? It was encouragement dipped in optimism. Heady times. That’s not to say Slovenia did not at least hint that they could cause problems; however, Scotland were the better side for large parts of the first-half. Possession was clearly king and no chances were taken when the back four were pressed, those wearing blue happy to pass the ball back. This brought frustrated jeers from the home supporters. Do you think the
LUCKY 13: Chris Martin’s Scotland team-mates show exactly what they think of him after netting the last-gasp winner