Mission Accomplished, But Questions Raised For Strachan and Scotland
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan had one main mission at the beginning of this international week: to win Scotland’s two matches against Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. That mission has been achieved, but it wasn’t easy and more questions will have been raised for the Scotland boss than answered.
Priority number one was to win Wednesday’s friendly and today’s Euro 2016 Qualifier against Gibraltar, but a second priority was surely to do so in a convincing style. The former may have been accomplished, but the latter most certainly was not.
On Wednesday night Scotland hosted Northern Ireland in a friendly match at Hampden Park, their first outing at the national stadium since before the Commonwealth Games closed Hampden for football for several months. The welcome back was decent considering how rare cheap ticket prices are to watch the national team these days and 28,000 made it out to cheer on Strachan’s boys against their rivals from across the Irish Sea.
Scotland started as brightly as the pink and yellow on their shirts, but by the time Northern Ireland had settled into the match the home side found it more and more difficult to find space going forward. Rather than taking chances and relying on the talent that is undeniably present in the squad, Scotland preferred to pass the ball around in their own half until it inevitably ended up back at the goalkeeper’s feet and punted away or worse: lost to Northern Ireland in their own third.
The visitors were unable to punish Scotland when they did steal the ball close to Craig Gordon’s goal, but Strachan will be all too aware that Scotland’s rivals for Euro 2016 qualification – Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland – all possess greater quality and will not let Scotland escape unpunished for such errors and passiveness.
In the end, Scotland carved out a win thanks to an 85th minute Christophe Berra header, but Strachan would have been disappointed not to create more chances and ultimately goals from open play.
And so Sunday afternoon’s match with newboys Gibraltar afforded Strachan’s side a second chance to put in a good performance and to show some creativity for the Hampden crowd which had not parted way with £35 each to see Gibraltar, but to see an impressive home performance.
Although this was a competitive match, there was even less pressure on the home side in many ways given that the majority of the Gibraltar squad are footballers on a part-time basis only. This was the perfect opportunity to be creative and adventurous going forward, but Scotland were neither. The home side needed a suspect penalty decision to get them on the scoresheet before Gibraltar made history by scoring their first ever competitive goal at the Mount Florida end of Hampden Park.
While slightly embarrassing, conceding to Gibraltar could happen to any side as it only takes one moment of slack defending and quality Gibraltar finishing – as was the case this Sunday – to find the net. More disappointing than conceding the one goal to Gibraltar was that Scotland could only score six times themselves. Both Poland and Republic of Ireland put seven past Gibraltar and Scotland didn’t appear nearly as ambitious against the new nation as their two most direct rivals for qualification.
Only Scott Brown, and Barry Bannan when he came on, appeared eager to play the game in the Gibraltar half and this will be Gordon Strachan’s biggest concern ahead of his side’s upcoming crunch fixtures against Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Germany.
If Scotland weren’t confident enough attack Northern Ireland or Gibraltar, how will they attack better teams? It’s a question that could prove tough to answer.