Billy Gilmour missed one of several chances for Scotland on a frustrating night at Hampden
Holding on for a 1-0 win at home to a side ranked 175th in the world may not seem like the type of result to kick-start a World Cup qualifying campaign, but Scotland and manager Steve Clarke will take it all the same ahead of a vital trip to Austria in Group F.
A crowd of over 40,000 at Hampden for the visit of Moldova spoke of the optimism that remains following Scotland’s appearance at the Euro 2020 finals, as the country ended its 23-year major tournament drought. In years gone by during that barren spell, such a fixture would have been fortunate to generate a crowd of half that number, but the energy that has carried on from the summer has been directed into powering the country’s World Cup qualifying bid – a task that remains in the balance following a fraught and anxious week.
Scotland returned to Hampden still licking their wounds from the 2-0 defeat to Denmark on Wednesday, as the Euro 2020 semi-finalists demonstrated their strength and blew Clarke’s men apart at times during the first half in Copenhagen. As Denmark cruised into a two-goal lead inside 15 minutes and threatened to embarrass the visitors, it was a reminder of the gulf that exists between Scotland and Europe’s best, and the work that needs to be done before the Tartan Army can dream of running away with a qualification group in the manner of which Denmark are strolling to Qatar following five wins from five in the group.
Attention, therefore, had already turned to making sure Scotland emerge as the best of the rest – and keep their World Cup hopes alive by reaching the play-offs. There were plenty of signs at Hampden that the hosts are indeed moving in the right direction in order to achieve that ambition. The returning John McGinn in midfield and Nathan Patterson at right-back added energy and drive that was missing in Copenhagen, with the 19-year-old Rangers defender in particular standing out on his first competitive start for his country.
Patterson was key in the move that led to Lyndon Dykes’ first-half goal, a tap-in from two yards that seemed to be the first of many but eventually turned into a pivotal winner, as he won back possession on the halfway line before exchanging a one-two with Kevin Nisbet and firing a shot across goal. The effort was saved but Dykes was in the right position to score his first goal in his last 13 international appearances and continue his fine domestic form for QPR.
The performance of Nathan Patterson at right back was a positive for Scotland
After that, Scotland missed chance after chance to build on their advantage, with Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Billy Gilmour and Ryan Christie all having opportunities to put the home crowd at ease. Instead, each wasted moment added to the uncertainty which seeped around Hampden heading into the closing stages. For supporters who have seen it all before, the idea of Moldova going down the other end to steal a point was far from unthinkable.
Despite the promising signs, it all adds into the doubts which linger heading into Scotland’s trip to Vienna. Scotland scored just once from 41 shots as they finished bottom of their group at the Euros and have displayed little evidence of improving that record this week. Scotland rarely threatened against Denmark and a further 16 attempts against Moldova, with a return of just one goal, points to a lack of composure in front of the target that will need to be discovered as soon as possible.
The good news, depending on how you look at it, is that Scotland now face an Austria side who conceded five times in a shocking defeat to Israel.
With the three teams separated by just three points in the battle for second place, fine margins are set to decide who comes out on top. Finding the net with such ease, as Israel did in recording the 5-2 win, may look beyond them at this moment in time, but Scotland must find a ruthless edge if they are to secure back-to-back finals and build on the momentum of reaching Euro 2020.
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