Scotland got the emphatic victory that was a necessity against the Faroe Islands at Hampden Park.
Eric Nicolson highlights four talking points at the end of the first part of the World Cup qualifiers as all eyes switch to the European Championships.
There is no Andy Robertson issue
The return of the drop Andy Robertson agenda baffles me. It truly does.
Scotland have got issues on the other side of their defence, at right-back and right-sided centre-back, and yet still there are people who can’t shake off their fixation with what to do on the left.
This really isn’t a problem.
In the three at the back system there seems to be pretty universal agreement that Kieran Tierney played very well against both Austria and Israel. He did so once more.
He was far and away Scotland’s top performer in this triple-header.
Robertson, on the other hand, has divided opinion.
I actually think he was OK in the first half last Thursday night, very good in the second, OK in the first half in Tel Aviv and good in the second.
The point that gets continually missed by too many is that Robertson will never look as easy on the eye for Scotland as he does for Liverpool, purely as a result of the quality of the service he gets and the field position he is able to take-up.
The same issues would apply to Tierney at left-back. Do we have to waste a game and create unnecessary ramifications by dropping the captain?
No is the answer.
Robertson was at least a seven out of 10.
He and Tierney have built up a good understanding of one driving into the box and the other holding back.
The Arsenal man produced the assist for John McGinn’s early opener but Robertson’s first-time volleyed cut-back from a Scott McTominay diagonal which nearly teed up a quick-fire second for Scotland’s talisman was equally, if not more, impressive.
Tierney, whose work to set-up McGinn for the next goal was magnificent, is a player at the top of his game and doesn’t need to be at left-back to showcase it.
Kieran Tierney and John McGinn combine successfully for the second time tonight, as Scotland double their lead over the Faroe Islands 🏴
Watch live on Sky Sports 📺 pic.twitter.com/Gkyq8symrF
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 31, 2021
The Robertson debate continues to be a manufactured one with no substance.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
It’s never a good thing when one of the big winners from a batch of Scotland matches is somebody who has missed all three. That, however, is undoubtedly the case with Ryan Jack.
The Rangers midfielder’s absence is felt by his club side when he doesn’t play – the Slavia Prague games spring to mind – but is felt even more keenly by the national team.
It is hard to imagine the Scots being as passive as they were in midfield in the first half against Austria with the former Aberdeen man at the heart of the action. It was even worse in Israel.
Snapping into tackles, making sure gaps don’t open up through the middle and allowing others to get the team moving are Jack’s strengths and unfortunately it would appear there isn’t a like-for-like replacement.
Or, at least, not one that will be ready for international football anytime soon.
McTominay, when he’s used in midfield, needs licence to get up and down. McGinn is at his most effective supporting the strikers, as was shown once more against the Faroes, and Callum McGregor is supposed to be the metronome who keeps things ticking over. Mind you, as far as the latter is concerned, it has long been the case that McGregor’s selection owes more to past achievements with Celtic and an inflated reputation than good performances in a Scotland shirt.
Kenny McLean got another chance to stake a claim but he’s closer in style to McGregor than he is Jack.
If ever there was a game in which Scotland could do without a shield for their centre-backs it was this one and, sure enough, the midfield very rarely got played through.
The lack of a press on Brandur Hendriksson when he let fly with a sweetly struck 25-yarder on 15 minutes, though, was a reminder that the man who some Aberdeen fans kept telling us was a poor imitation of Graeme Shinnie will be vital to the nation’s hopes in the summer.
Where once there was certainty now there is doubt
David Marshall is fit and would be the last of the players who started the first two games of this mini-series of games in need of a rest, physical or mental.
Steve Clarke has been, and will continue to be, diplomatic but you don’t change your goalkeeper for an important World Cup qualifier for any other reason than being unconvinced of who your number one choice is.
Marshall’s two mistakes last week both led to goals – one in each match – and the hero of Belgrade (and a few fixtures before that, it must be said) has a fight on his hands to start in the European Championships.
Craig Gordon was brought back for cap number 56 at the age of 38 and, despite the fact he is playing lower league football, must have a 50-50 chance now of playing the first game of the Euros.
His save from that Hendriksson shot was Gordon at his best and an obvious contrast to the long-range effort Marshall let past him a few days earlier.
But there was also a dropped cross just after half-time that had it fallen more kindly for Jóan Edmundsson would have been a tap-in equaliser.
There will be no simple decision for Clarke to make in June and no lack of risk to it.
As convincing as this victory was in the end, the opening stage of the World Cup campaign wasn’t going to be defined by beating the Group F minnows at Hampden.
Che Adams opens his account for Scotland and it's a great goal! That touch 😍🏴
Watch live on Sky Sports Main Event 📺 pic.twitter.com/aRwgfWBqQy
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 31, 2021
Yes, it was a professional job but damage has been done with two draws that no amount of spin will change.
That being said, it will only take one big result away from home to get things back on track and when the campaign resumes in September the trip to pool leaders Denmark presents such an opportunity.
But it’s all about Euro 2020 now.
England will top the group in June, of that there is little doubt, and the semi-final stage should be the least of their ambitions. Whoever fills Scotland’s problem right wing-back position going up against Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount or Marcus Rashford is a potential mismatch – and there will be others.
The England game will be the least important fixture of the three, however. It’s the ones either side of it that will matter more.
The Czech Republic, who Scotland beat in October let’s not forget, are up first and they have just this week been beaten by Wales.
As for Croatia, they lost three Nations League games in a row and then their first World Cup qualifier to Slovenia. Home wins against Cyprus (by just one goal) and Malta do not represent a corner turned.
This has been a testing week but not an excessively damaging one.
Four points against those two – let’s hope at Hampden with some locals in the stadium – remains as realistic now as it was when the draw was made. Scotland, Croatia and the Czech Republic all have their issues, none of them insurmountable as far as progression to the knock-out rounds is concerned.
This has been a testing week but not an excessively damaging one. Clarke, his players and the nation are quite right to marry hope with expectation at the Euros.
And that’s not a bad place to be. Let the countdown begin.