Scotland huffed and puffed against Slovakia but their unbeaten run of nine came to an end, losing the Nations League match 1-0.
Jan Gregus gave Slovakia a lead just after the half-hour mark with a good strike from 25 yards out, with Scotland having chances through the likes of Oli McBurnie and Arsenal star Kieran Tierney. Fewer were to come in the second half as eventually the national side ran out of steam, feeling defeat for the first time in over a year.
Spirits couldn’t be higher ahead of this one after Scotland secured tournament football at next summer’s Euro 2020 competition. Attentions quickly had to turn to World Cup 2022 qualification, victory here enough to ensure Nations League group B victory and a potential play-off spot.
Steve Clarke brought about eight changes to his starting XI from that magical night in Serbia. The only survivors were Arsenal’s Tierney, Aston Villa man John McGinn and nation’s sweetheart Ryan Christie.
It would be the latter to have the first chance, forcing keeper Marek Rodak into a good save. Liam Palmer then watched his effort whistle over the bar whilst McBurnie should have had his first international goal, failing to pull the trigger from six yards out.
All this happened in the first 15 minutes where the away team were well on top. But it was the home side who would strike first, Gregus picking the ball up from range and slotting past Craig Gordon.
Arsenal’s left-back teed up Palmer for an instant reply but he couldn’t convert, whilst McBurnie missed another big chance from a few yards out with a header.
At half-time it was 0-0 and Slovakia started the second half well, getting a bit more of the ball in the final third as Scotland opened up more in search of a winner. Leigh Griffiths was brought on for Andy Considine in an attacking change.
As the clocked hit 80, Scotland’s hopes of an equaliser were fading quickly. Despite some late pressure, one wasn’t to come.
Czech Republic v Israel will now need to draw later on Sunday evening if Scotland are to progress from Nations League Group B, otherwise Clarke’s men will need a win in Israel on Wednesday. Here are three things we learned.
Strength in depth
Clarke’s heroes from Belgrade will always be a memorable XI now. But eight changes were made in Slovakia to rest legs and the quality put out by the Scotland boss didn’t diminish.
Players from the Premier League and English Championship were brought in to replace those outgoing. It’s been a while since the national side have had such depth, showing quality goes beyond a settled XI and system.
Pros and cons
Whilst was had in Slovakia, it was by no means a bad performance. Tierney in particular shone, the Arsenal ace excelling at left-wing-back instead of centre-half, creating numerous chances.
McBurnie started up top but again couldn’t score, making it 14 international appearances without a goal. He did have chances but really needs to put one in the net to get growing critics off his back.
Run comes to an end
A chance to go an incredible 10 games without defeat for the first time since 1927 presented itself to Scotland in Slovakia. Regardless of opposition, it’s a pretty incredible statistic.
But they couldn’t equal this feat, perhaps running out of steam after the exertions of Thursday night. It’s a run though Clarke will take huge pride in.