McBurnie misses chance to impress as Scotland beaten by Slovakia

Oli McBurnie misses his chance to impress to Steve Clarke as Scotland are brought back down to earth after the highs of Belgrade with limp Nations League defeat in Slovakia

  • Both teams secured their Euro 2020 place in Thursday’s play-off finals 
  • Jan Gregus fired home the decisive goal from the edge of the box in first-half 
  • Slovakia 1-0 Scotland: Gregus’ deflected drive denies Scots sealing promotion

There was no cause for a party in the Scotland team hotel after this sobering defeat, and one that could yet impact on their World Cup 2022 aspirations.

Steve Clarke’s side supped and sang into the early hours of Friday morning in Belgrade in the wake of qualifying for Euro 2020, and so they should after waiting 23 years for such a moment.

But the boss interrupted that knees-up in an attempt to keep feet on the ground. Clarke reminded his players of the significance of this fixture, where a win would have seen them promoted to the top tier of the Nations League and so increase their chances of a World Cup playoff place.

Scotland striker Oli McBurnie missed several chances to record his first international goal

Slovakia (4-3-2-1): Rodak 8; Pekarík 6, Satka 6, Skriniar 6, Mazan 6; Kucka 5.5 (Lobotka 61, 6), Hrosovsky 6, Gregus 7; Duda 6, Hamsik 7 (Rusnak 68, 6); Duris 6 (Safranko 90)

Scorer: Gregus 32

Booked: Kucka, Pekarik, Duda, Mazan, Rusnak

Manager: Stefan Tarkovic 6

Scotland (3-5-2): Gordon 6.5; Considine 6 (Griffiths 68, 6), McKenna 6, Cooper 6; Palmer 7, McGinn 6.5, McLean 6.5, Armstrong 6.5 (Shankland 87), Tierney 7; Christie 7, McBurnie 5

Booked: McGinn, Armstrong, Christie

Manager: Steve Clarke 6

MOM: Rodak

Ref: I Kovacs (Rom) 6

They still top this group and are odds-on to stay there ahead of Wednesday’s final game in Israel.

But this was an opportunity missed, and the cause was missed opportunities. Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie was the chief culprit and his wait for a first international goal will enter a 15th outing.

How the striker could have done with the nick of fortune that aided the only goal when Jan Gregus’ 25-yard shot clipped off Kenny McLean and landed in the bottom corner on 32 minutes.

At times you think McBurnie has literally ran his socks off so low does he wear them around his ankles, but he needs to pull them up when it comes to his finishing.

Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak produced an impressive display against Scotland

He should have scored when played in by Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong on 18 minutes but wanted too long to arrange his feet and his shot was blocked by a recovering defender.

There was another opening for which his touch deserted him and a header that lacked power from a close-range position that demanded better.

But Clarke said: ‘Oli left everything on the pitch against two tough centre-backs. His qualities are in holding the ball up, bringing other people into the game.

‘He had one big chance in the first-half, he couldn’t quite get the ball away quick enough. But I’m pleased with Oli, pleased with the team, obviously just without the result.’

Jan Gregus (left) celebrates after firing Slovakia into a 32nd-minute lead in Trnava

Clarke was right. Scotland played well, as they had done during their penalty-shootout win in Serbia, and this was a first loss in 10 matches.

They made eight changes – including the loss of captain Andy Robertson to a hamstring concern – and the incentive of impressing the manager ahead of next summer’s Euros was arguably of greater concern than Nations League permutations.

Clarke added: ‘It’s a defeat but, considering the number of changes we made, it’s not a backward step.’

The only criticism – finishing apart – was the time afforded to Gregus for his goal, which flew beyond a helpless Craig Gordon, the goalkeeper recalled after more than two years since his last cap.

Gregus’ 25-yard shot clipped off Kenny McLean and landed in the bottom corner

But Gordon – in for Thursday’s shootout hero David Marshall – was relatively untroubled and opposite number Marek Rodak, of Fulham, was by far the man-of-the-match.

He produced a flying to save to deny McLean, who had flashed a header on goal from Kieran Tierney’s centre, and with the last action of the game he tipped around the post from Leigh Griffiths.

For now, then, the Scots party is on hold, at least until Wednesday.

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