Scotland 2-1 Cyprus: Burke saves the day at Hampden
(Photo Credit: Alan Rennie | gettyimages)

Scotland 2-1 Cyprus: Burke saves the day at Hampden

The Steve Clarke era gets off to a winning start after late drama at Hampden Park, earning Scotland their second win in Group I and keeping their qualification hopes alive.

craigking92
Craig King

Since the departure of Craig Brown in 2002, seven managers have unsuccessfully attempted to guide Scotland to the promise land of a major international tournament once again. Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley, Craig Levein and Gordon Strachan will not go down in history as the man to mark down that achievement on their resume, but perhaps Steve Clarke will.

The appointment of the former Kilmarnock manager, who led his side to third place in the Scottish Premiership last season, has brought a fresh wave of optimism to the national side. The evidence of that was clear as 31,000 made the trip to the south side of Glasgow for the match - the highest attendance for a Scotland home match since Slovakia came to town in 2017 in a decisive qualifying match.

Cyprus stood in the way on Saturday night, threatening to destroy that new hope. Not quite a minnow, they are a side that has taken points from Slovenia, Bosnia and Bulgaria in recent years, but one that the Scots were expected to beat. In the end, Scotland earned themselves the three points they desired - just.

Story of the match

After a truly abysmal start to qualification for EURO 2020 under Alex McLeish in the shape of that 4-0 humbling in Kazakhstan, Scotland's hopes in the group were already precarious. With Belgium and Russia leading the way, both victorious on Saturday in their respective matches, this was a must-win match at Hampden Park. Anything less would surely spell the end, even on Matchday 3, if their chances of claiming a top-two finish.

It was a changed squad, as to be expected with a new manager, as Clarke put his stamp on the team less than three weeks after his appointment.

With the awkward timing of the fixture at the end of the season, many players were unavailable due to prior commitments which allowed the first international squad inclusion for Eamonn Brophy, who had worked under Clarke at Kilmarnock and also for Michael Devlin, Stuart Findlay and Greg Taylor to earn their first caps.

The starting eleven for the Scots did not look out of place though with Scott McKenna retaining his place in defence partnered by the experienced Charlie Mulgrew. Kenny McClean and Ryan Fraser are becoming fixtures in the squad with their seventh and eighth caps respectively while Brophy did receive the nod up front to earn his first cap.

If anyone was of the belief that the recent sluggish performances of Scotland would be quickly fixed by the managerial change, they were quickly mistaken as the first ten minutes placed a tinge of nervousness in the air at Hampden. Cyprus began the match like the home team, enjoying over 66% possession while the Scots looked passive, failing to pressure their island visitors.

The most promising moments for Scotland were coming down the left through recently-crowned Champions League winner Andy Robertson and AFC Bournemouth's Ryan Fraser with both linking up well and causing the Cypriot defence some problems. The end product remained missing for the home side though with set-pieces and crosses into the box being dealt with too easily.

Cyprus had the best chance of the match before the twenty-minute mark. Pieros Sotiriou, on the books of Danish champions FC Copenhagen, showed his skill, spinning Mulgrew before playing in Michalis Ioannou whose blocked effort allowed Georgios Efrem, once of Rangers and Dundee, to fire straight at David Marshall when he really should have done better.

Mulgrew came closest to providing the spark for the Scots before the break. His free-kick, up and over the wall, forcing Urko Pardo to turn it around the post. 

The second half began with more urgency for Scotland that fizzled out rather too quickly for those inside Hampden. The sluggish pattern of play continued until just after the hour when a special player produced a special goal to put the Scots into the lead.

Robertson, fresh from a glorious night in Madrid with Liverpool, fizzed a shot from outside the area beyond Pardo and into the net. Advantage Scotland.

The need for a second goal was clear. After an effort from McGregor was almost dropped into the net by the Cypriot keeper, the away side gave Scotland cause for concern.

Andreas Markis displayed the fragility of the one-nil lead with just over ten minutes to go, his effort deflecting off of Scott McKenna and almost looping over Marshall, who had to lean back and claw it over the bar.

Stephen O'Donnell is not renowned for his goalscoring but he was almost the beneficiary of a lovely Scotland move. Fraser was the architect, but the right-back could only lift it over the keeper and beyond the post.

Cyprus made Scotland pay for the lacklustre performance, a set-piece into the box headed in by Ioannis Kosoulos in the 87th minute.

This ground is known for late disappointment, and it seemed certain that the Cypriot defender had written after chapter in that particular book. It was poor defending from Robertson, as the left-back lost his man and allowed Scotland's lead to slip.

So often over the years, Scotland have been in situations such as this, having let a late goal slip and then having to settle with a damaging draw or a defeat.

It isn't very often that they show the resolve and spirit to come back and find the winning goal. It took just two minutes for the Scots to show the side that they rarely do.

Fraser produced another cross, and this time Oliver Burke rose highest, heading agonizingly against the post - but the euphoria was soon to come, as the West Brom man tapped in the rebound to score his first international goal and seal the victory.

Takeaways from the game

The win will do

This was not a good performance from Scotland. To be fair, they haven't had many good performances for a while now but many expected a vibrant, exciting performance against one of the nations viewed as a "minnow" and especially because of the new manager in charge. They didn't get it.

Saturday evening wasn't about the performance. After months of apathy and turgid displays, it was simply about winning and beginning this new era with a victory and it was achieved.

It is also worth remembering that Clarke has only been in charge of this side for less than three weeks, and with several players unavailable and the match being at the end of the season, there has to be room for leeway when it comes to judging this match.

If this was six months down the line, it wouldn't be good enough but Scotland have shown resolve they don't normally do by coming back to win and they managed to achieve exactly what was required. This result keeps Scotland in it and that will do just fine for now.

Standout players

Fraser and Robertson were the liveliest players for Scotland on the night. It was always their link-up play down the left that preceded any attack and caused Cyprus the most problems. along with McGregor in the middle. This looks like a great option for Scotland going forward and it was Robertson that provided the lead with his stunning strike at a time when Scotland were going nowhere in the match.

Burke did little when he came on. He tried to hassle the Cypriot defence with his speed but was ineffective. Importantly, he was there when Scotland needed a hero. Fraser with the cross, Burke unlucky with the header but was there to tap in the goal to win the game.

As for Cyprus, Sotiriou was able to show his quality and was a tricky prospect for the Scottish defence. Efrem out wide saw much of the ball and, of course, Kousoulos headed in the equalizer that ultimately proved meaningless.

This wasn't pretty from Scotland, far from it, but they got the job done. For the first time in a long time, Scotland have a manager that it seems everyone is behind - and that gives plenty of hope for the Tartan Army.

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