One of the success stories of the Steve Clarke era has been the transformation of John McGinn. As a defensive holding player the Aston Villa man was an accidental tourist. In a number ten role he’s becoming a rare and precious specimen. A Scotland player who scores goals.
The former Hibernian midfielder made it seven in six games with a second half double as Clarek’s team served a measure of vengeance on Kazakhstan.
Moving into double figures with his tenth goal in 52 appearances Steven Naismith offered further grounds for cautious optimism ahead of two critical Nations League play-off games in March.
Steven Naismith completed the turnaround, nodding in from close range after 64 minutes
Aston Villa’s John McGinn grabbed his second goal of the game in second half injury time
After wins over San Marino and Cyprus victory here made it three-in-a-row for the first time since 2017 when, under Gordon Strachan, the Scots sunk Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia. Had they started Group I the way they finished it a pretty dismal group campaign might have turned out a little better.
Scotland: (4-2-3-1) Marshall, Palmer, Gallagher, McKenna, Taylor, Jack, McGregor, Christie (Fleck, 83), McGinn (Armstrong, 92), Forrest, Naismith (Burke, 78)
Unused Substitutes: McLaughlin, Shinnie, Devlin, Morgan, Brophy, McBurnie, MacGillivray, O’Donnell, Porteous
Bookings: Gallagher (66)
Goals: McGinn (48, 91) Naismith (64)
Kazakhstan: (3-4-2-1) Nepogodov, Marochkin, Maliy, Logvinenko, Suyumbayev, Pertsukh, Abiken, Shomko, Zaynutdinov, Islamkhan (Fedin, 75), Shchetkin (Aimbetov, 83)
Unused Substitutes: Pokatilov, Erlanov, Kerimzhanov, Kuat, Tagybergen, Zhukov, Alip, Miroshnichenko, Shatskiy
Bookings: Islamkhan (22) Abiken (43) Marochkin (67) Kuat (81)
Goals: Zaynutdinov (34)
It was all about the second half in the end. In the first a dank night on Glasgow’s south side reflected the performance. Before a sparse Hampden crowd of 19650 the Scots conceded a poor goal after 34 minutes. Against the team ranked 121 in the world a 3-0 defeat away from home was bad enough. Losing at home would have been a thoroughly depressing outcome.
A stirring comeback sends Clarke’s team into their biggest games in 20 years with momentum and the wind at their back after McGinn goals bookened the second half and Naismith’s timely strike after 64 minutes.
A venue for next summer’s Euro finals Hampden will host four games. In truth you wouldn’t stake the mortgage on Scotland playing a part in any of them yet.
A home draw for both games in Fridays draw in Nyon would help. The sudden unexpected emergence of a central defence would do no harm either.
It’s not especially hard to see where Clarke’s problems lie.
In ten games in Group I the team in dark blue have conceded 19 goals in a group featuring San Marino and San Marino. Here, once more, the deficiencies in central defence were exposed by the classy first half strike which saw an unfancied Kazakhstan side threaten to inflict more misery after a humiliation in Astana in March.
Baktiyar Zaynutdinov in yellow wheels away in celebration after scoring from 25 yards
Scotland’s James Forrest screams in agony after a challenge during the Group I game
While the quality of the finish from Baktiyor Zainutdinov can’t be denied, the failings in defence were multiple and increasingly typical. Right-back Liam Palmer surrendered possession in his own half. When Alexandr Schetkin worked the ball to his teammate 20 yards out Scott McKenna offered the attacker all the time and space in the world to curl a sublime effort into the net.
Where Clarke finds a central defensive partnership is the question which shows no sign of an answer.
In truth Scotland’s first half display was slack in all areas and Kazakhstan could easily have scored after 16 minutes when, with three attackers against two stranded defenders, Dmitri Shomko’s attempted shot skidded across the face of the area for Aleksei Schetkin to poke a low effort at goal.
James Forrest missed with a shoot at goal in the first half of the game at Hampden Park
The striker failed to make great contact and from Scotland’s point of view it was just as well, David Marshall falling gratefully on the mishit effort.
The Scots huffed and puffed in the first half.
Decent play by Ryan Jack ended in a Ryan Christie shot forcing Dmytro Nepogodov to push round the post after the ball deflected wickedly off the chest of Sergei Maliy.
After Zainutdinov stunned Hampden with the opener Ryan Jack could have equalised while opening his Scotland account when he gathered a Liam Palmer pass and won the break of the ball before thrashing the ball straight at the keeper. A great opportunity.
Ryan Jack has an effort foiled by Kazakhstan goalkeeper Dmytro Nepohodov in the first half
The half ended with Ryan Christie lashing a 20 yard free-kick over the crossbar and boos from the supporters. Those who could be bothered making the effort to boo at least.
To turn things around Scotland had to do the basics. They had to show tempo, urgency and do the dirty work. They had to find a way back into the game and, mercifully, it didn’t take long.
McGinn’s sixth in a dark blue shirt came not a moment too soon. Three minutes into the second half Naismith won a free kick right on the edge of the Kazakhstan area. It needed a huge slice of luck for the equaliser too finish up in the net, the ball striking Bauyrzhan Islamkhan in the wall before changing direction and wrong-footing Dmytro Nepogodov.
John McGinn of Aston Villa fired a free kick into the wall and the ball deflected past the keeper
Listen, at that point Scotland were happy with a goal any way they could get one.
The wonder is that it took as long as it did to score a second. For the best part of 20 minutes it seemed it might never come.
In superb scoring form this season James Forrest blew a great chance after 51 minutes. McGinn fed Greg Taylor on left flank, the cut-back offering his Celtic teammate the kind of chance he tends to gobble up. Taking a first touch to steady himself Forrest was falling off balance when he fired a yard wide of the upright.
Steven Naismith prevailed from a goalmouth melee with a goal during the Group I game
Naismith wasted another couple of opportunities before finally finding his touch. The Hearts man took a superb touch from a McGinn cross to create a shooting opportunity after 55 minutes, blazing high and wide when Ryan Christie was in a better position to finish.
Christie’s delightful pass to and overlapping Liam Palmer then created a cut back he should have scored.
With 65 minutes gone Scotland began to wonder if it was one of those nights. It was third time lucky in the end.
The productive Christie – Palmer combination got the desired outcome when the right-back’s cut-back spun up off a defender and dropped under the crossbar.
Kazakhstan’s keeper Nepogodpov had a decent case for a free-kick when John McGinn careered into him three yards out. It was a free-kick. Playing to the whistle Naismith didn’t hang around, nodding into the net from three yards with his last contribution of the game.
McGinn wasn’t done just yet, poking Greg Taylor’s low cross into the net from 12 yards as the board went up for four minutes of injury time.
Entering the Nations League play-offs hope springs eternal once more, yet with Scotland a basic truth never changes. It’s the hope that kills them.