September 30, 2022

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon was beaten three times in Dublin as Scotland put up an abject display

Watching Scotland get devoured by a hungry Irish team at the Aviva on Saturday brought to mind an image from one of those David Attenborough programs, where the self-confident wildebeest wanders into the wrong part of the Serengeti only to be run over by a voracious lion.

Scotland went into a den and they weren’t ready for it. The scale of the failure was breathtaking. There wasn’t a single redeeming feature, which deepens the confusion.

How could so many players play so badly at the same time? Maybe their heads weren’t good in the first place. Maybe they thought Ireland, with their dismal home record, couldn’t hurt them, but they would have been soon wrong.

We are looking for theories here. Everyone could see what happened, but why did it happen? The confidence of arrogance? Fatigue? Is it that simple of players hitting terrible form at the wrong time? Could it be that the reduction of the defeat against Ukraine still persist?

Unquestionably, it’s not the same team when Kieran Tierney is not there.

Steve Clarke said he should sleep on it before commenting further. He was “unable” to explain it. If he had managed to fall asleep in Dublin, chances are the memory of it had come to him in a nightmare.

One goal less in 20 minutes after his players allowed Shane Duffy – whose danger from corners isn’t exactly a trade secret – a free header which Alan Browne, undetected by a comatose defence, forced on line.

Two goals after 29 minutes when Troy Parrott shunned Jack Hendry and Anthony Ralston and passed Craig Gordon.

Three goals after 51 minutes when Billy Gilmour was sacked by Jayson Molumby and Michael Obafemi launched his rocket.

It could have been more. Scotland was so inept at everything it did that it made Ireland look formidable. How complacent of the Scots to give Stephen Kenny a dig when the house manager was in such desperation.

It was the first time Ireland had scored three goals at home in a competitive game in eight years. Scotland became just the fourth country they have beaten in Dublin in a competitive game in seven years – Georgia, Moldova and Gibraltar were the others. It was Kenny’s first home win in a competitive match at the ninth attempt. It was only their sixth win in 25 games under Kenny.

It was won, and lost, on attitude. Ireland had the advantage of a breathless side having seen their ass kicked from Dingle to Donegal of late. Instead of being demoralized by a string of poor results, they railed against doubt. From the first minute, they invaded the midfield and lived against Scotland. Visitors struggled and then collapsed. It was horribly captivating.

Captain Andy Robertson was scathing in his assessment of Scotland's shortcomings
Captain Andy Robertson was scathing in his assessment of Scotland’s shortcomings

The Scottish players – Andy Robertson, Callum McGregor, Gilmour – sent the ball into the stand instead of finding a teammate. Scottish players back up on tackles and miss second balls. Scottish players don’t work as hard as their counterparts. The Scottish players are watching goal after goal come in on the back of their miserable inability to keep possession in the first instance and then distractedly defending in the second.

Everyone was miles away. Everybody. John McGinn gave up the ball seven times in the first half hour and also missed two decent chances. McGinn is a talisman on this team, a hero immortalized in song, but he’s far from fine. He’s Scotland’s main goal-scoring prospect, but the reality is he’s on a 29-game goal streak for club and country.

The Scotland team is full of players at big clubs, but there is a soft underbelly there, a lack of the kind of aggression that Ireland have shown.

Che Adams is another in a barren period. Scotland’s main striker hasn’t scored for 16 games. He was never likely to score in Dublin. With passes going everywhere they were supposed to, he didn’t stand a chance.

This side have been well served by goals from defenders lately, but when defenders don’t score, what do Scotland have? So far, not many.

Scotland were dominated and beaten. We thought they were past that point, but no. There they were again, just as lost as they had been in some of the scorching days before. It was Kazakh stuff. If Ireland had won by four or even five, that would have more accurately reflected their total dominance.

Scotland’s confusion on the pitch for a miserable 90 minutes continued after the final whistle. They made a form to go to their fans but then quickly turned around when they saw the anger and heard the boos. They retreated to their locker room and what a hopeless place it must have been. When Robertson spoke up in stride, he did so with a conviction and precision his game sorely lacked.

It was damn stuff. “Each of us has lost our individual battles,” he said. “Playing in a Scottish shirt should be an honor and we should fight for it and tonight we didn’t.” It was pretty obvious to see, but how telling that Robertson had admitted it. What an indictment.

He had more to say. “They won every other ball, they won every challenge,” he said of Ireland. Even more devastating criticism from his own team. “We started playing long balls, which we didn’t work on, to a striker who was isolated, which is completely the wrong thing to do.” He remarked that Scottish fans were right to boo the players off the pitch. And there was this: “Their fans lifted them up and I don’t know if we hid from that…”

It is the Scottish captain who effectively admits that Ireland wanted more, that their players panicked and ignored instructions and that the crowd may have pushed some Scottish players into hiding. Breathtaking.

The tartan army was unimpressed
The tartan army made their displeasure known by booing the Scottish team out of the park

Clarke said the issues were not with selection or form, but “something else”. He didn’t know, or say, what “something else” was.

Any team can have a bad day at the office, but it’s now been two out of three games – one ended Scotland’s World Cup hopes (albeit against a good Ukrainian side) and another has done them serious damage by going the Nations League route to the play-offs for a place at Euro 2024. The past few weeks have been deeply damaging. Clarke works poorly now.

There is one game left to play, a 15th in the last 12 months. In the heat of Yerevan they go on Tuesday, Yerevan being the hothouse where Ireland lost 1-0 just over a week ago.

Robertson would need to show the kind of leadership in deeds rather than words. McGinn, capable of excellence and horror, needs to find himself. At the moment, he does not deserve a place in the team. You could say the same of Robertson, brutal as that sounds. McGregor was also infected by all of this on Saturday. It was his 62nd game of the season.

If Clarke made five or six changes for Yerevan, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. As a creature of habit, he’ll likely wield a scalpel rather than an axe.

This Scottish team needs the most searing honesty session after this. It’s time to stop blowing smoke and get real. Their progress has stopped and they are retreating. It’s embarrassing on Saturday.