So Close Yet So Far

By Rory West (@rorywest96)

It will take a while to get over the heartache of Saturday’s result. Those two minutes or so where we genuinely thought we were going to get one over the Auld Enemy were unforgettable. Yet, Harry Kane’s equaliser has left us in a place that doesn’t quite favour us.

But before getting to the negatives, the massive positives need to be taken into account. As a nation, doom and gloom is a regular occurrence when it comes to the national team but the overall performance against England was outstanding. Players such as Charlie Mulgrew and Christophe Berra, who haven’t been great for the national team in the past, played out their skins in an attempt to keep the English Premier League’s top marksman quiet.

Kieran Tierney, despite not having his best game this season, showed why he’s better than any left back that England have to offer. Also showing his qualities, filing in as part of a back three when England had the ball. This allowed Andy Robertson to get forward and attack Kyle Walker and with a bit more luck and composure he could have given Scotland the lead midway through the second half. Ikechi Anya at times looked slightly out of his depth but his pace was crucial getting Scotland up the pitch and winning fouls.

The Celtic midfield duo of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong both proved pivotal in breaking up the play and transitioning defence to attack. While the pair weren’t as influential as they have been at times for Celtic this season they definitely played their part in this positive result.

One thing that has gone under the radar is, despite halting his usual game, Scott Brown’s early tackle on Dele Alli which he received a yellow card for, effect Alli’s performance as he was distinctly quiet and offered virtually nothing.

The only slight complaint on Armstrong’s front was, his highly talked about decision to not just blooter the ball clear when Scotland broke, in the build up to England’s goal. However in the heat of the moment, his body was facing the direction he passed the ball and for him it would have been the easiest ball to play. In Armstrong’s defence he wasn’t helped by his Celtic teammate in the sticks Craig Gordon.

Further up the park, Snodgrass and Morrison didn’t offer to much which was disappointing, especially on Snodgrass’ front. Since his hat-trick in Malta he hasn’t really kicked on as we all hoped he would and perhaps become the new James McFadden talisman we thought he might. He just never got involved and his lack of work rate never really suited the type of game Scotland were involved in. Scotland improved when Ryan Fraser came on for Snodgrass, making his Scotland debut. He offered more energy and a will to chase down balls, that Snodgrass wasn’t. He also won the free kick for the first goal by bravely going in for a challenge with Gary Cahill. Hopefully Fraser becomes more of a regular in this Scotland team. Morrison picked up an injury during the first half and had to be replaced but despite that he never offered much either. Often a passenger for Scotland, it may be time for James Morrison’s time in the national side to come to a close.

The main negative from the game was Craig Gordon’s performance in goals. Due to his constant run of games for Celtic it wasn’t a shock to see Gordon start over usual number one David Marshall but I can’t see many more appearances after this one. Gordon looked nervy throughout and was at fault for both the goals. Firstly he didn’t get a strong enough wrist behind Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot and then his positioning was all wrong for Kane’s equaliser. It was disappointing to see from Gordon who has performed so well consistently for Celtic this season.

Last but no least, the man who almost wrote himself into Scottish Football folklore, without saying he already hasn’t. Leigh Griffiths. “Catch him if you can, catch Scotland if you can” was the cry from Martin Tyler after Griffiths fired home the second of his two excellent free kicks. Both efforts were close to perfect as they flew past Joe Hart in the England goal. It was some way for the Celtic man to break his duct for Scotland, but his overall performance was almost equal to his goals. Griffiths’ effort to chase down every ball and close down every player at every opportunity was admirable.

The question is now, where does this result leave us? At this stage, with not much hope. A draw was a very credible result but in the circumstances, it was a disappointment. A win would have left us in a much better position to where we are now and would have given us a slightly better chance of qualification. While it is still unlikely, 12 points out of the final four games is almost a must. That will be a difficult task, but if we play like we did on Saturday we should give ourselves a chance.

 

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Author: pintsandpens

Pints and Penalties is a weekly Scottish Football Podcast where we discuss all the goings on within the Scottish game. If going to the pub and having a good 'blether' about the 'fitba' with your mates is your thing then this podcast is the one for you.

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