John McGinn’s superb volley rescues point for Scotland against Austria
It should be to Scotland’s advantage that revelling in past achievements is not Steve Clarke’s style. After an absence from finals stretching back to 1998, progression to this summer’s European Championship was met with epic celebration. But Clarke has rightly emphasised that if Scotland want to be taken seriously as a football nation once more, qualification cannot be on a one-off basis. The close proximity of the World Cup to the upcoming Euros provides Scotland with a decent chance to build momentum.
Clarke seemed content with this draw against Austria, which is understandable given that Scotland twice trailed. A moment of magic from John McGinn five minutes from time closed the scoring in a game that was something of a slow-burner. Scotland will play far better; under this regime, they lack nothing in spirit.
“We will take the point,” said Clarke. “You can’t keep this team down. They have character and want to fight for their country. There are lots of positives from tonight.”
Austria were never likely to be submissive visitors to Glasgow. Armed with a full contingent of German-based players after a relaxation in quarantine rules, Franco Foda’s men began the evening 25 places higher than their hosts in the Fifa rankings. As Sasa Kalajdzic slammed a shot narrowly wide of David Marshall’s goal inside two minutes, Clarke’s pre-match assertions of a stern challenge rang true. Christoph Baumgartner stung the palms of Marshall from 20 yards, as Austria maintained their bullish start.
The paucity of Scotland’s attacking play during the opening period was illustrated by how deep the main striker, Lyndon Dykes, was having to drop to get involved. Austria’s tactic of keeping Andy Robertson within 50 yards of his own goal wherever possible had an impact on the marauding Liverpool full-back, and Scotland looked blunt.
And yet Clarke’s men should have been ahead at the break. Alexander Schlager, the Austrian goalkeeper, inexplicably passed the ball straight to Dykes, who flicked back to the advancing Ryan Christie. Schlager was due credit for his save from the Celtic midfielder but Christie will have rued his profligacy.
By the time Che Adams appeared for his Scotland debut with 25 minutes left, Austria had the lead. With Clarke bawling at his players to press the ball, Florian Grillitsch was instead given time and space to line up a long-range shot. As perhaps befitting a goalkeeper who has not been playing at Derby County, Marshall could only palm the attempt to the feet of Kalajdzic. The Stuttgart forward accepted his gift as Scotland’s defence froze. Clarke was entitled to fury; the concession of cheap goals was a staple under previous Scotland managers but not this one.
Scotland had a strong claim for a penalty moments later as Christie was held by Stefan Ilsanker. The referee, Carlos Grande, waved away the appeals but came to Scotland’s aid when he disallowed what would have been a second Kalajdzic goal for a push on Kieran Tierney. Later, Clarke acknowledged Austria could raise concerns over the Kalajdzic decision.
If Adams was seen as the obvious source of salvation, Grant Hanley had other ideas. The Norwich City centre-back took advantage of a dangerously high Austrian line at a Stephen O’Donnell free-kick, striding forward to head beyond Schlager. Clarke is a huge fan of Hanley on account of defensive capabilities; the 29-year-old marked a return to the international fold after a three-year absence by showing talents of a different kind.
Dykes was inches away from connecting with a teasing Robertson cross as Scotland pushed for a victory that had looked unlikely for so long. Instead, the excellent Kalajdzic struck again. The 23-year-old, earning just his third cap, leapt to beat Jack Hendry to a Stefan Lainer cross from the right. Marshall was afforded no chance.
Scotland roared back once more, with McGinn’s goal a superb one. Christie headed the ball rather hopefully into the Austrian penalty area after a set piece, and McGinn delivered an overhead kick to beat Schlager. “I thought I was offside,” McGinn said. “That’s one thing about VAR down the road [in England], you play until the ball is in the back of the net. Before, I might just have stopped.”
Onwards, for Scotland, to Israel before the Faroe Islands visit Hampden Park. Softer tests, one would assume, for a team Clarke has heading in the right direction.