A cold and dreich Sunday night at Hampden as Scotland host one of the worst national teams in the world in a meaningless qualifier as they look to bounce back from 4 defeats in a row. Where else would I rather be?
On the back of a dreadful result and performance in Russia on Thursday night as the dark blues went down by four goals to nil, it was important that Scotland bounce back and San Marino were the ideal opponents to allow them to do just that.
Steve Clarke gave a much anticipated debut to Lawrence Shankland as he looked to find a solution to Scotland’s striker crisis. Shankland has been banging them in for the past 2 years in the Scottish championship for Ayr and Dundee United and whilst some worried that the step up to international football might be too big a leap for Shankland, San Marino were the perfect opponent to give his first start for the national team.
As the nation hoped for Shankland to be the answer to the goalscoring woes, it was in fact John McGinn who stepped and fired in a first half hat-trick for Scotland who went in three goals to the good at the break. In truth, all 3 of McGinn’s goals were poachers effort fitting a prolific striker, not a box to box midfielder. Firstly he got the slightest touch on Ryan Christie’s low effort that looked to be heading goal bound either way. McGinn then added to his tally as he converted from inside the six yard box after a goalkeeping error, before completing his hat-trick with another close range finish after a Stuart Findlay knock down from a corner.
The second half saw Scotland add another three goals to their tally for the evening however the story of the second 45 minutes was the weather. The rain at hampden was torrential and continued throughout the 90 minutes. The second half was always going to see Scotland struggle to play any real nice football as more often than not the ball would just stop and stick to the surface, especially in the middle of the park, such was the amount of water on the park. Had the pitch been in that condition pre match I doubt the game would have gone ahead.
Goal number four for Scotland was a richly deserved goal for Lawrence Shankland. The Dundee United striker reacted first to tap in to the empty net after Scott McTominay’s effort rebounded off the bar. Shankland’s movement was superb all night long and definitely deserved a goal. The fifth goal was another debutant, Stuart Findlay from Kilmarnock headed in from a Ryan Christie corner.
The scoring was rounded off with a wonderful Stuart Armstrong free kick as the Southampton man found the top left corner past the helpless San Marino ‘keeper. The way in which the free kick was won for Scotland was one of the comedic highlights of the game, the San Marino goalie walked out of the box and picked the ball up thinking that the referee had blown for a foul in the middle of the park, however he hadn’t and instead gave a foul against the goalkeeper for handball.
A good win and a much needed improved performance for the national team despite the lack of quality in opposition. Shankland did well and maybe now he can go on to become the solution to our striking woes. The rest of the qualifiers now have to be used as preparation for the playoffs next year as Clarke needs to figure out his best team to head into the playoff semi final at Hampden.