Nathan Patterson heats up after Everton frostbite on a night solidarity was the winner – Keith Jackson’s big match verdict

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Solidarity. The Poles gave the concept to the world more than 40 years ago in a brave rebellion against the Kremlin.

And last night they brought it to Hampden for a match which meant next to nothing, but an occasion which is likely to be remembered long after the contest itself is forgotten.

For Steve Clarke, it was very nearly win number seven on the bounce, which seemed to be secured by Kieran Tierney’s 68th minute header.

But victory was snatched from Scotland in injury time when sub Krzysztof Piatek won a penalty which should never have been given and then slotted it beyond Craig Gordon to snatch a draw which neither was served nor grudged, given the backdrop to this match.

It was also another impressive Scotland performance from a team which now looks as if it belongs to this level and may very well be destined for bigger and better things.

But, although there was much for the manager to feel pleased about – not least the sight of Nathan Patterson rampaging out of cold storage as if the last three months of frostbite at Goodison had never happened –ultimately, what took place on the pitch was kept in context by the outpouring of generosity and goodwill which was so overwhelming off it.

That it should have been Ukraine out there was never far from the mind. That around half a million pounds of humanitarian aid was raised in ticket sales alone, a source of solace and hope.

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And that Clarke even found a way of putting the fun into fundraiser meant it was as satisfactory a night as it could possibly have been amid such harrowing circumstances.

This may have been a sporting contest with a very serious side but even so, having done so much to build Scottish momentum over these last few months, it was Clarke’s job not to let things slip with regards to his side’s progress towards the World Cup Finals .

So he threw out his strongest possible starting XI to face a Polish team with its eyes on the big prize of next week’s play-off final for Qatar.

That meant talisman and skipper Robert Lewandowski was allowed to rest his old legs on the bench, which was a shame in some respects but certainly not for Craig Gordon and his three-man defense of Scott McTominay, Grant Hanley and Tierney.

With Patterson let off Frank Lampard’s leash at right-back, Greg Taylor on the left, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor and John McGinn in midfield and Ryan Christie supporting Che Adams in attack, Clarke’s side looked in decent shape even before a ball was kicked.

And, 20 seconds in, when Hanley launched himself into a first header of the night – at shin height – it looked reassuringly like business as usual for this team.

Little Gilmour was buzzing around in the middle of the pitch with his hand out, demanding the ball from all angles and Patterson getting into a gallop down the right, albeit on a sodden, over-watered pitch, Scotland settled into an early stride.

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Patterson almost got them off to a flyer nine minutes in when he slalomed his way into the box.

Had it not been for the surface spray holding the ball up, he might have done a lot better than jab a left-foot shot which keeper Lukasz Skorupski was able to gather comfortably.

Still, it was a sign of Scottish intent and an indication that Patterson’s edge has not been blunted by three months of heel kicking on Everton’s bench.

Poland responded with a run and cross from Jakub Moder which flashed across Gordon’s goal but, for the most part, this match was being fought out in midfield where the likes of McGregor and McGinn were moving it around with purpose and precision.

That said, the Poles missed the chance of the half midway through when Bartosz Salamon thumped a free header over from eight yards out.

At the other end, shots were peppering Poland’s goal but all of them from a distance.

McGregor blazed one over first, then Christie did the same and, shortly after the half hour, Adam fizzed one on target which forced Skorupski into his second save of the night, albeit a largely unconvincing one.

And the keeper ended the half keeping Scotland out single-handedly with a double save from Patterson and Gilmour after Christie and McGregor had cleverly combined to carve open his defence. Scotland were getting closer all the while.

There was a scare at the start of the second half when Piatek got in behind Scotland’s defense but the big striker dragged his shot wide.

But it was soon back into the same pattern as before, with Scotland probing and picking at Poland’s defense in dark blue waves.

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Gilmour nearly ripped it open in 57 minutes with a superbly weighted pass for McGinn at full steam but although the stand-in skipper got there first he took a heavy first touch rounding Skoruspki then stayed on his feet when the keeper clawed at his ankles.

The ball ran behind, sparing Irish ref Rob Hennessy a difficult decision.

Then, from nothing, another massive chance came and went but only after McTominay slipped and allowed Poland to break.

Again, Piatek let rip, this time at an empty net, but somehow Gilmour got back to make a heroic, acrobatic clearance off the line.

Soon after, Patterson and Taylor were replaced by Stephen O’Donnell and another young gun in Aaron Hickey, for his debut.

And within seconds, they were celebrating the opener.

It was created by a pitching-wedge of a dead ball delivery from McGinn and Tierney twisted his torso to snap a header beyond Skorupski from eight yards for his first goal for his country.

In normal circumstances, there would have been scenes of outrage in the final 10 seconds when Piatek went down in the box as if poleaxed by Gordon when, in fact, the keeper made no contact at all.

The ref bought it, Piatek leveled and both sides left undefeated.

But the message they helped to send out in Glasgow last night is what mattered most of all.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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