REVIEW: Scotland 1-2 Russia - Euro 2020 Qualifying
In the build up to this match, Steve Clarke spoke of his desire to see his side record a "big win" to lay a marker down in this Qualifying campaign for Euro 2020.
His Scotland side unfortunately let him down, falling to a 2-1 defeat at Hampden Park tonight. Here are the talking points from a bitterly disappointing evening at the National Stadium.
A Meatball Marinara - Scotland, lined up in a 4-5-1, started brightly. Scotland's creators, Fraser, McGregor and Robertson interchanged nicely and forced a couple of early corners. It was from that combination that the opening goal arrived in the 11th minute. Ryan Fraser's cross was attacked by lone striker Oli McBurnie which led to the keeper spilling it to 'Super' John McGinn to sweep home his first goal for Scotland. So far, so good.
A Handful of Artem - After opening the scoring, Scotland attempted to retreat into a defensive shell, turning defensive clearances into counter attacks. The problem with this approach could be found in both sides centre forwards. For Russia, their 6ft5" striker Artem Dzyuba was a handful for Scotland's centre backs, winning flick-ons and dragging his side up the park. At the other end, McBurnie was struggling to equal Dzyuba's output, leading to more play coming towards the Scotland goal. Dzyuba was there to pounce when the ball ricocheted off Andy Robertson's boot, drawing Russia level.
Scotland come up short - Another repeated dynamic throughout this match was the physical difference in the teams. The sight of 5ft4" Ryan Fraser attempting to win defensive and offensive aerial duels against opponents with a significant height advantage told the story.
Sloppy Scotland - Steve Clarke will have been incredibly frustrated with the mistakes made throughout. Time after time, possession was gifted away as the Scotland players sometimes appeared ring-rusty in the early stages of the season or simply not on the same wavelength.
An error from Ryan Fraser gifting possession inside his own half led to the winning goal. Golovin, who had been excellent throughout, got behind Liam Cooper and delivered the ball into the box where it was bundled home at the back post. Most of this Russia side play within Russia where their Premier League is 8 games old, four more than the SPFL Premiership & English Premier League. In truth, they looked more dangerous throughout the second half and could have added more.
Where does this leave us? In Euro 2020 qualifying, defeat tonight leaves Scotland 6pts behind Russia who occupy the 2nd qualification place. On Monday night while Scotland welcome Belgium to Hampden, Russia host Kazakhstan. Scotland could feasibly find themselves 9pts behind Russia on Monday night with only twelve points to play for in the group.
If tonight's result has achieved anything, focus can now be turned entirely to March's UEFA Nations League Playoff Semi-Final. While Scotland's opponents are still TBC, it is absolutely essential that Steve Clarke's side are fit and firing for two matches that will decide whether Scotland qualify for Euro 2020.
On tonight's showing, significant improvement is required.
The Tartan Scarf Player of the Match - Ryan Christie
It was perhaps a surprise to see Christie start on the bench given his form at the start of the season for Celtic. He showed some excellent close control in his 28 minute cameo, dribbling his way out of trouble and driving the team forward. Expect to see him start on Monday night against Belgium.