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Sons View Special – the post-match verdict

September 4, 2011

SO, Scotland failed to record the win they desperately needed against the Czech Republic in yesterday’s Euro 2012 qualifer. Here’s Lennox Herald sports reporter and Sons View columnist Andy Galloway’s verdict on the  game.

TALKING to a group of friends in another section of seats at Hampden at half time yesterday, I said of Kenny Miller’s opener for Scotland: “That goal covers up a multitude of sins.”

By full time, I was proven right.

Blame the referee all you want for the two penalty decisions in the final few minutes of Judgement Day at Hampden. However, Scotland got what they deserved from the game – a lesson in what sitting back on a one-goal lead does to you. We at Dumbarton should know that as well as anybody.

When you take the lead close to half time, you build on it, right? You take the game to your opponents in the second half and look to kill them off. However much you were dominated in the first 45 minutes, you have the upper hand in the area that really matters. You take the game to the opposition and look to get the second goal that will kill them stone dead.

Even if the opposition do equalise, when you take the lead again with less than 10 minutes to go, you are professional and see the game out. You don’t give the opposition a chance of a second equaliser – when the ball is in the danger area, you get it as far away as possible. That’s the case, isn’t it?

Unless you are Scotland in yesterday’s do-or-die international. The message was clear ahead of the game – play to our strengths. Play so that the Czechs were on the back foot from the word go, so that in-form players like Steven Naismith were involved in the game as much as possible. Play so that an inexperienced goalkeeper like Jan Lastukva was intimidated by our play and the Hampden atmosphere and we took advantage of that. We had the players to do that – Miller, Naismith, Charlie Adam. Only none of that happened.

It took us half an hour – half an hour – to force a meaningful save from the keeper. In a game we had to win. By then we should have been at least one goal down – that open-goal miss by Milan Baros after five minutes was a belter. Then came the opening goal, which as stated above, covered up a multitude of sins. It was certainly well-worked, but how many mistakes had there been in the 42 previous minutes which we wouldn’t expect watching a Dumbarton match?

Nevertheless, we had the breaks and got the second half off to a decent enough start. But mistakes were still happening – errors which were letting the Czechs back into proceedings. Eventually they equalised, but with only seven minutes to defend the lead, you’re professional about it, aren’t you? You don’t dive into challenges in the penalty area, giving the referee a decision to make?  Only we did – albeit it was done by an out-of-position left back.

Let’s nail this. Having taken the lead so close to half time, we should have come out all guns blazing and ended the Czechs’ challenge once and for all. Instead, the second half was a catastrophe. Even after Darren Fletcher’s goal handed Scotland back the lead, did anybody feel confident about going on to take the three points? One of us in the North Stand didn’t.

Now this all comes from somebody who advocated Craig Levein’s appointment as manager. However, all the relevant questions after this disaster – and that’s what it is, as we needed a win and nothing else – are directed at the gaffer. Why no Kris Commons in the squad – whatever his form for Celtic, did we have a better left-footed player  available? Did we even have a left-footed wide player on the pitch yesterday? One thing is for sure – it wasn’t Naismith, who proved in the recent friendly against Denmark that he can’t play in that position and did so again yesterday. So much was justifiably expected from a player who has done so much in the last 18 months, but so little he delivered, not much of it his own fault.

And why was the midfield such a game of musical chairs, instead of a settled formation, which the Czechs had and looked so comfortable with? One minute Naismith, Fletcher, James Morrison and Scott Brown were in different positions, the next they’d rotated. The only midfielder who seemed to stick rigidly to his position the entire 90 minutes was Adam – co-incidentally, or otherwise, one of the better players in the game.

However, man of the match has to be Miller. On the occasions we showed some adventure, he chased everything and got his goal. Just think what we could have achieved yesterday had we done more of that. Two serious raids on goal , we score twice – go figure.

It was said before the game and shouldn’t change now – man-for-man, we should have beaten that Czech Republic side at home. It was widely accepted that there was nothing to fear prior to the match and there was zero on show throughout the 90 minutes to change that judgement.

However, did yesterday teach us anything we didn’t know already about this Scotland squad? Ultimately no, other than that it’s looking like barring a miracle, they can safely start planning their summer holidays for 2012. They won’t involve Poland and Ukraine. The fact still remains, though, that we have players who can do damage when it matters in the future.

Unfortunately, that future looks more and more likely to involve the SFA searching for Walter Smith’s phone number.

The post-match verdict on Tuesday’s game against Lithuania – which still means something – will be in Saturday’s edition of Sons View against Arbroath.

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