Two games sit between Scotland and the latest chapter of their great redemption story at international level.
Victory over Ukraine, ultimately with plenty to spare after a superb second-half showing, catapulted Scotland to the top of their Nations League section. Should the Republic of Ireland, who visit Glasgow on Saturday, and Ukraine, whom Scotland face again in Krakow on Tuesday, be held off then first place in group B1 will be secured. The Scots should enter these games full of belief; strong opposition were swatted aside here. The scoreline did not flatter Scotland at all.
Memories of Ukraine’s previous visit to Hampden Park linger in Glasgow. On an evening filled with raw emotion, Oleksandr Petrakov’s team progressed to a World Cup playoff final against Wales with a pretty comfortable 3-1 win. The fixture had been delayed from Match until June following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Ukraine were hugely popular winners then, defeat was painful for Scotland. In suggesting lessons had been learned, Steve Clarke dispensed with a three-man defence for this clash. Clarke’s decision was made easier by the unavailability of Andy Robertson – three at the back was deployed so he and Kieran Tierney can both play – but this was still a notable switch of approach. It allowed Scott McTominay to to return to midfield; an area in which Ukraine had considerable joy three months ago.
One minute of applause for the late Queen Elizabeth II, a patron of the Scottish FA, was punctured by audible booing from a section of the home support. The atmosphere thereafter was subdued, which was strange for a match of this magnitude. The Nations League offers Scotland prime opportunity to progress to major tournaments, emphasised by their route to Euro 2020.
Matters on the pitch were tame, too, until Che Adams tested the Ukraine goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin with a 10th minute drive. This was the precursor to a decent Scotland spell, Ryan Christie’s pass narrowly evading Adams before Stuart Armstrong stung Trubin’s palms with a fierce shot.
Scotland were dealt a 25th-minute blow with the enforced removal of Nathan Patterson, who has excelled in recent times at Everton, after injuring his ankle from an awkward landing. Patterson was removed from proceedings on a stretcher, with Aaron Hickey the replacement at right-back. This represented cruel luck for Patterson, who for the first time was starting for his country while also an automatic pick at club level.
Scotland were the better team during the opening period but lacked bite in the final third. A similar description need not apply to Valeriy Bondar, who wiped out Adams as he raced towards goal during first-half stoppage time. It was a move more suitable for WWE. Adams headed towards the dressing room looking somewhat dazed.
Scotland’s bright opening to the second period was without opportunity until Armstrong blazed over the bar from the angle of the six yard area. McTominay, who was enjoying a fine evening back in his natural position, created the chance for the Southampton man with some nifty footwork. Hickey duly watched a low drive from 20 yards deflected wide. With half an hour to play, Hampden sensed Ukraine were beginning to wilt. The woodwork saved the visitors after Adams met a John McGinn cross with his head. With another header, Adams forced Trubin into a save with his left boot. Adams turned creator for Armstrong, who headed wide.
Just when this had the look of one of those evenings for the Scots, McGinn notched the goal they fully deserved. There was an element of freakiness behind it, Adams having a shot blocked before Tierney’s pass took a huge deflection into his teammate’s path. Still, McGinn showed terrific strength to hold off Bondar before angling a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Trubin’s net.
That Ukraine could barely keep the ball was testament to Scotland’s constant hassling. Tierney was next to test Trubin, with an effort which the goalkeeper scrambled to save. Clarke introduced Ryan Fraser in a bid to claim a second goal and with justifiable cause to believe Scotland could find one.
Indeed, the Newcastle winger set-up his fellow substitute, Lyndon Dykes, for goals number two and three. Fraser’s corner kicks from the left, on both occasions, saw Dykes leap highest. Roll on Saturday.