Scotland have produced arguably their best result of the Steve Clarke era and are now in with a great chance of finishing second in their World Cup qualifying group.
Eric Nicolson picks out four talking points from the 1-0 win in Vienna.
Meeting fire with fire
The pre-match talk coming out of the Scotland camp had me worried, I must admit.
Setting the mood for a game of this magnitude with ‘must not lose’ as your mantra isn’t the most Churchillian of messages.
Austria aren’t a nation used to losing 5-2 to average opponents like Israel so a fast and furious opening from the hosts to show their supporters it was an aberration at the weekend was a given.
Thankfully, Steve Clarke and Callum McGregor’s public approach of playing down the significance of the match wasn’t reflective of the Scots’ mindset.
First half fire needed to be met with fire. And it was.
Soaking up early Austrian pressure without showing a bit of intent wouldn’t have done.
You would expect the defenders to throw their bodies in front of shots and get their head to crosses but the key to making sure this became a battle of equals was the endeavour the two forwards brought to the party.
Lift-off for Scotland! 🚀
Lyndon Dykes smashes in a penalty after a lengthy VAR check…🖥 pic.twitter.com/ZcoV5NYM3M
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) September 7, 2021
This was Lyndon Dykes’ sort of match.
The QPR man got the opportunity for plenty of aerial duels with centre-backs and the goalkeeper, and he came close when getting his head to a John McGinn cross that was hung-up at the back post for him to attack.
That sort of commitment was to be expected.
Che Adams matching his work-rate was the pleasant surprise.
Adams is the classiest of our centre-forward options by some distance but the European Championships passed him by a bit and so too did last Wednesday’s clash with Denmark.
The Southampton striker needed to show more.
Getting his body position right to force Martin Hinteregger into a bit of mixed martial arts to get to grips with him in the box won’t make any Scottish ‘greatest’ DVDs but in the context of this game and this group, it encapsulated exactly what was required of him and delivered.
So was it a penalty?
In light of the refereeing leniency shown at the Euros and English Premiership officials being instructed to follow that ‘let the game flow’ lead at the start of their season, it did come as a surprise when Georgi Kabakov was asked to take a look at the pitch-side monitor.
The lack of anything approaching concerted Scottish appeals added to a feeling that nothing would be given.
Once it became clear that there was more to this than both players grabbing a shirt, however, the Bulgarian ref had no option.
That Dykes’ spot-kick found a way under the goalkeeper was a moment of good fortune, the award of the penalty certainly wasn’t.
Perfect for Steve Clarke
A 1-0 lead at half-time against a team addicted to crossing from too deep, in front of an exasperated home crowd.
This was exactly the sort of scenario you expect a well-drilled Clarke side to thrive in.
The visitors had the odd counter-attack but there was no chance the Scots were ever going to over-commit and engage in the sort of ‘you attack, we attack’ encounter that had preceded the opening goal.
Craig Gordon just doing Craig Gordon things 😍 pic.twitter.com/sTFZV19P1W
— Sharon 🏴🇮🇹 (@shazxraz) September 7, 2021
They defended the width of the penalty box magnificently and Clarke would gladly have signed up for a second 45 in which Craig Gordon only had to make one trademark reflex save from a cross into the box.
Getting in front is the hard bit for Scotland in big games like this.
They should do it more often.
Those eight magic words
There are only four games left in Group F and, after an underwhelming start to this World Cup qualifying campaign, we can now say it.
Scotland are in control of their own destiny.
You can’t expect to progress, even into the play-offs, if you don’t beat your main rivals along the way.
Four points is a case of job done on the Austrian front.
Do the same against Israel by beating them at Hampden Park and that precious play-off place will likely be secured.