John McGinn had a moment of redemption as he helped Scotland surge to the top of Nations League
That miss in June shouldn’t weigh so heavily on John McGinn anymore. Not after this.
Just as it looked as if Scotland might not only reap rewards, the midfielder’s moment of personal redemption helped cap a superb team performance – one completely transformed from the lackluster loss to Ukraine in the World Cup play-off semi-finals.
McGinn has admitted he was haunted by his failure to convert from close range in the second half as hopes of Qatar drifted away.
John McGinn had a moment of redemption as he helped Scotland to a 3-0 win over Ukraine
If that was a moment of utter agony, here was a moment of pure bliss. Fittingly, it happened at the same end of Hampden.
After Kieran Tierney’s challenge forced the ball in his direction, McGinn used the most effective backhand in international football to roll away from Valeriy Bondar. This time the finish was flawless.
Darted into the bottom corner of the net, it produced a breakthrough in the 70th minute after a series of thwarted opportunities. Stuart Armstrong had three alone in the middle of second-period one-way traffic.
The midfielder’s goal in the 70th minute helped Scotland to top the Nations League group
Steve Clarke faced plenty of criticism after the Ukrainians outclassed their hosts three months ago.
The boss got everything right to send Scotland top of Nations League Group B1. It was one of the finest exhibitions of his tenure. A showcase of the talent in this team.
A change of system, away from a back three, allowed Scotland to flourish. And Clarke’s substitutions were perfect.
Ryan Fraser and Lyndon Dykes were introduced to end the game. They did it in style. Twice in the last ten minutes Fraser gave away corners for Dykes to head home.
For the Newcastle winger, this was quite a cameo on his return to the international fold. For Dykes, it was an emphatic way to end a run of just one goal in 24 appearances for club and country.
Lyndon Dykes came off the bench to score two late headers against Ukraine in the 3-0 win
Scotland have it in their hands now. A win over Ireland on Saturday night would only leave a draw against Ukraine in Poland next Tuesday.
Play like this again, and it is eminently possible to secure Nations League promotion and a back-up play-off opportunity for European Championship 2024. After all the horror in June, optimism breathes again.
Ukraine looks somewhat stunned. In the pre-match media conference, captain Andriy Yarmolenko had stressed that the desire to win for their suffering compatriots remained just as strong.
Once again, every visiting player emerged from the Hampden tunnel draped in their national flag.
Coach Oleksandr Petrakov was missing a few options due to injury, notably Oleksandr Zinchenko. Outstanding in the play-off win, the versatile Arsenal man has been sidelined with a calf injury.
For Scotland, Tierney’s return in place of the injured Andy Robertson was one of six personnel changes made by Clarke from the last meeting. The formation was also changed.
Scott McTominay was deployed in midfield – rather than central defense – as part of a 4-2-3-1 set-up. Clarke was clearly aware of the lessons of June.
A back four with Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna as its central components would still have to show resilience against talented opposition.
When the match first got under way – after a minute’s ovation for the late Queen that generated quite a few boos from the Hampden crowd – Ukraine raised an early alarm when Artem Dovbyk was suddenly thrust into a one-on-one against Hendry. A previous goalscorer on this ground, the Dnipro striker could not capitalize.
A minute’s silence for the late Queen Elizabeth was held at Hampden Park prior to kick-off
That little scare touched Scotland. For most of the first half, Clarke’s side were on the front foot. Ukraine was not able to play around them as it happened before.
Tierney’s presence was also significant. He spotted Che Adams peeling out to the left and slotting a pass through that channel to meet the striker’s run.
Adams angled his advance towards the area where Bondar’s slip allowed an attack on goal. It was straight at goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin.
Ryan Christie then fizzed one through the six-yard box without finding a taker, before a crisp pass into Nathan Patterson saw the ball clipped off the right-back’s toes.
Scotland stretched the home defense but couldn’t quite find the final moment of the cut. A little more care and calm was needed.
When Patterson crossed from the right, a clever glancing header from John McGinn ran off target. McGinn would soon fall victim to a Taras Stepanenko challenge that handed out the first yellow card of the night.
Armstrong then delivered a Christie to head over at the near post as Trubin raced out to try to tap. Not very convincing, one must say.
A half-chance came Christie’s way when Trubin beat a snap shot from Armstrong, but the Bournemouth man couldn’t quite find his feet.
Just as momentum was building, however, a cruel blow was dealt. Patterson went down in pain after attempting a tackle and eventually had to be carried off the field.
Given how well he has played since a breakthrough at Everton, one can only hope the injury is not serious.
Another English Premier League talent in Aaron Hickey took over at right-back, but the disruption – and concern for a colleague – seemed to slow Scotland down a bit.
Ukraine threatened sporadically, primarily through Mykhaylo Mudryk’s blistering pace. But they could easily have been reduced to ten men just before the break.
As Adams looked to break through, he was cleaned out by an outrageous body check from Bondar.
The defender lifted an elbow into the bargain but was only shown a yellow card by Italian referee Maurizio Mariani. Scotland wanted to see a different colour.
Not surprisingly, Adams required a few minutes of treatment. Fortunately, he was able to continue.
Bondar was booed every time he touched the ball as the second period got under way. By then, Petrakov had decided not to risk another booking for the aggressive Stepanenko and brought in Serhiy Sydorchuk as his midfield replacement.
Hendry made a terrific challenge on Dovbyk before an offside flag was raised late on, but it was Scotland who took control with Tierney getting Oleksandr Karavaev in possession to set up Armstrong for a shot straight at Trubin. The midfielder’s big opportunity came soon after.
McTominay protected the ball before feeding Armstrong with a lovely backheel. When the goal beckoned, the former Celtic man lost his composure to blaze over from 10 yards out.
McGinn will be pleased after missing a chance in their World Cup play-off against Ukraine
It felt like it could be a big moment. But Scotland pushed on again. Their dominion increased.
McGinn crossed for Adams to head against the crossbar. Moments later, the same combination led to the Southampton striker’s header being denied by Trubin.
When Adams then picked out Armstrong for a header from a great position, you wondered if the ball would ever go in.
Enter McGinn. And those tight corners. It was a sensational end to a Hampden night that will live long in the memory.