The lack of jeopardy might have been good for the heart but it was a poor substitute for what was supposed to be one of the highest stakes games played at Hampden in recent times.
Of course, some might argue it was still one of the most meaningful games the old stadium has ever hosted. How much more meaning do you want than raising nearly £400,000 for humanitarian aid to Ukraine?
A donation of £10 from the sale of each ticket was given to UNICEF’s emergency aid fund and nothing – not even being denied a seventh win in a row by a debatable injury-time penalty – could deflect from the primary purpose of this hastily arranged friendly .
It was disappointing of course that Scotland could not ensure their winning momentum continues into another international year. Still, no harm done. And who knows how 2022 might end?
Kieran Tierney augmented another positive display by Steve Clarke’s side with his first goal for his country from a free-kick slung in by John McGinn, skipper for the night in the absence of Andy Robertson. “No Scotland, no party!” sang the home fans.
Scotland will be included in the World Cup draw next week although a big asterisk will be placed next to their name as well that of Ukraine and Wales, winners against Austria last night. On current form, even given the deflation of such a late equaliser, Scotland their seat at the top table. But they know there is still much to do to earn it.
A Gareth Bale-inspired Wales await providing Scotland can overcome Ukraine – if and when this clash takes place.
Poland will argue that while the benevolent intentions behind staging last night’s friendly were the overriding concern, the assignment was important to them for another reason.
It turned out to be a potentially costly run-out on a strangely sodden pitch before their own play-off final next week. The sprinklers may or may not have been behind Poland playmaker Arkadiusz Milik limping off after 23 minutes.
As a fund-raising exercise, the value of this fixture was irrefutable. But, in terms of their World Cup prospects, Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz will have some serious regrets about the wisdom of meeting a Scotland side desperate to extend a winning sequence of six matches in front of their own fans. Off the pitch, it was friendly. Both national anthems were applauded by opposition fans.
The only acceptable half-n-half scarves – Scotland and Ukraine, Poland and Ukraine – were also on sale outside. On the pitch, a few Scots didn’t get the memo. They were playing as if Scotland’s World Cup hopes were on the line, as was meant to be the case.
The visitors had lost two players by half-time. Bartosz Salamon joined Milik in the dressing room a few minutes before the interval having been hurt in a tender area by Ryan Christie’s swinging arm. He was helped around the pitch by the physio having had ice pressed into his inner thigh while sitting just off the pitch on the far side. Both are surely now doubts for next week’s play-off final.
No wonder Michniewicz chose to keep star striker Robert Lewandowski pinned to the bench throughout, much to the disappointment of the Scotland supporters.
But then who needs Lewandowski when you have… Nathan Patterson. The rampaging full-back was Scotland’s main attacking outlet in the first 45 minutes. He made a mockery of the opinion that he might find the going tough following his lack of first-team action at Everton. It also made his treatment of him by Frank Lampard seem even more baffling.
The 19-year-old very nearly scored one of the great Hampden goals early in the first half after skipping away from Arkadiusz Reca just over the halfway line and beating another three opponents. He could not quite apply the finish the run deserved on his weaker left-foot – although he did score with that foot on his last international appearance against Moldova.
What an exciting young player we have on our hands. Patterson was denied again by ‘keeper Lukasz Skorupski after another explosive run three minutes before half-time and then again moments later when he hit a shot into the ground.
Skorupski again parried to provide Billy Giilmour with a shooting opportunity. The ‘keeper was forced to make a better save on this occasion before John McGinn’s effort was blocked.
Scotland had played like a side oozing confidence from kick-off. They deserve to be feeling this way even after such a late blow. The team are operating fluently no matter the personnel involved.
Clarke threw a surprise in handing Aaron Hickey a debut having suggested illness would rule him out on the eve of the fixture. The Bologna full back replaced Greg Taylor at left wing back while Stephen O’Donnell came on for Patterson, whose 66 minutes was the longest run out he had enjoyed since a game for Rangers against Dundee United in December.
Two minutes after these switches Scotland went ahead. McGinn swung in a free kick and Tierney benefitted from slack Polish defending to head in from the edge of the six-yard box. These were not the circumstances he might have preferred in which to score his maiden international goal. It did not seal a place in a World Cup play-off final for example. It did not even secure the win Scotland probably served in this friendly, although Gilmour had already dramatically cleared Krzysztof Piatek’s shot off the line before the same player’s late, late intervention from the spot.
Craig Gordon rushed out to concede a late penalty with an apparent trip on the striker after Scotland had been speared through the middle.
There were just two of additional time to be played. Clarke shook his head. Piatek slotted home the reward. Given the context of the game, a draw was probably appropriate and shouldn’t affect morale before Tuesday’s clash against Austria in Vienna.
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