Scotland 2 Cyprus 1
Last week he laid hands on Europe’s most coveted club prize. Last night an eye-catching strike by Andrew Robertson at Hampden Park set Scotland on the way to victory over an awkward Cyprus side to reanimate hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.
Robertson’s contribution came exactly at the end of the first hour of Steve Clarke’s tenure in charge of Scotland. The contest had been preceded by a minute’s silence for Lennart Johannson, the former president of Uefa who died this week, and for some time afterwards it seemed that the crowd had continued to observe the ritual, so little were they animated by the Scots’ early grind through the gears.
Clarke had spoken repeatedly about positivity and the morale of players who had lately completed accomplished club seasons so, aside from Andy Robertson, Champions League winner with Liverpool, there was a midfield group of John McGinn and Kenny McLean, both of whom will be seen in the English Premier next season, plus Callum McGregor, a triple domestic treble winner with Celtic, as was James Forrest, posted on the right as support to Eamonn Brophy on the Kilmarnock striker’s international debut.
Brophy and Stephen O’Donnell, at right back, were symbolic of Killie’s achievements under Clarke, a trend which the Tartan Army devoutly hoped, would now extend to Scotland’s fortunes, although the news from Saransk of Russia’s 9-0 demolition of the Group I makeweights, San Marino, emphasised the improvement required for the Scots to claw their way back into contention.
The Cypriots opened in unexpected fashion with a 4-3-3 formation designed to take the game to Scotland in the early stages, a ploy that worked sufficiently well to give the visitors the edge in possession after half an hour although, by that stage, Clarke’s players had begun to impose themselves, most menacingly on the left flank where Robertson and McGregor combined repeatedly to release Ryan Fraser.
The best chance, however, came from a Charlie Mulgrew free kick when Forrest was fouled 25 yards out and the Blackburn Rovers man almost squeezed his delivery between Urko Pardo and his near post, but the goalkeeper pushed the ball behind for a corner kick, from which Brophy’s header bounced wide. Cyprus were on the back foot for the remainder of the half but they were responsible for a spasm of anxiety amongst the Tartan Army when Pieros Sotirio found space inside the box for a low angled drive which David Marshall – a surprise replacement for Scott Bain – dived to palm away.
When the pattern continued after the break, catcalls and whistles were heard from the stands but the tension was lanced when Robertson surged upfield to thrash a rising drive across Pardo into the far corner of the net. Scotland being Scotland, however, their fans’ nerves were stretched when slack marking allowed Ioannis Kousoulis to head the equaliser from a corner kick with four minutes remaining.
Yet there was still time for celebration as Oliver Burke struck home the rebound from his own header off a post to trigger wild celebrations amongst the Scots, on and off the pitch.