Moldova 0 Scotland 2
Scotland should seek to manipulate the international fixture calendar so they can play on November 12th all the time. Precisely one year on from scenes of epic celebration in Serbia, where Steve Clarke and his players secured a place in Euro 2020, a further high point for a team once the butt of so many jokes was reached.
Moldova were swatted aside with the minimum of fuss. Scotland will progress to the playoffs for the 2022 World Cup. Monday’s visit of Denmark, who have already qualified for the tournament proper, to Hampden Park represents little more than a glorified party. The claiming of 20 points in Group F with a game to spare is evidence of stark progress under Clarke. Quite rightly, the manager and his jubilant squad took the acclaim of a boisterous travelling support at full-time here. They were denied that in Belgrade, after all.
Goals in each half secured Scotland’s latest success. They controlled the vast majority of the game. Even late concern wasn’t merited; Moldova couldn’t take the penalty chance bestowed on them with nine minutes to play thanks to Craig Gordon’s save.
Scotland had suffered embarrassment in Chisinau before, albeit at a different stadium. A 1-1 draw in 2004 marked the end of Berti Vogts’s turbulent managerial tenure. Moldova are ranked even lower in the world now (181st) than was the case 17 years ago. A stumble here would therefore not only be troublesome in respect of qualifying for Qatar next year, it would rank among the worst results in Scotland’s international history.
Scotland started with purpose. Che Adams had the ball in the net inside three minutes, only for his close-range effort to be correctly ruled out for offside. Billy Gilmour stung the palms of Stanislav Namasco with a half-volley from 18 yards. Gilmour remains an automatic Scotland starter despite his lack of minutes as a loanee at Norwich City. Kenny McLean, who did feature regularly in Daniel Farke's midfield, was among Clarke's substitutes.
Although limited, Moldova were not totally without threat. Artur Ionita should have sent them ahead when collecting Radu Ginsari's through pass but instead screwed his shot horribly wide. Shivers down the spine, no doubt, for those who remember the horrors of 2004. More followed as Gordon, who played in that fixture, had to acrobatically save Ionita's downward header.
The majority of the early play, though, took place in Moldova's half. The Scots were visibly keen to afford themselves early initiative. Adams could not hook home a rebound from Stuart Armstrong's shot before the marauding Andy Robertson shot straight at Namasco. The smarter option for Robertson may have been playing in Nathan Patterson, who was in blissful isolation.
Scotland’s failure to score handed Moldova confidence. Ginsari tripped over the ball when set up by Ion Nicolaescu. With half an hour played the visiting support – which numbered far more than the official quota of 300 tickets – had become subdued. The Scots lacked a clinical touch.
It arrived, settling Scottish nerves before the interval, from an unlikely source. Intricate build-up play involving Callum McGregor and John McGinn allowed young full back Patterson to stride forward for a strike at goal. With his weaker left foot, Patterson slammed his maiden international goal beyond Namasco.
Patterson, pursued in August by Everton despite a lack of first-team opportunity at Rangers, had justified the faith shown in him by Clarke by delivering a moment of genuine quality. Relief was as noticeable as celebration in the Tartan Army ranks.
Adams wasted a glorious chance to double Scotland’s lead within a minute of the second half getting underway. The Southampton striker failed to display any forward instinct at all after McGinn floated a glorious cross to the back post. Adams was later to have his moment.
The second period was played at a considerably lower tempo than the first. Gilmour, given licence to break forward from midfield, saw a fierce shot blocked but Scotland looked pretty content to hold on to their lot. Patterson’s booking, however, means he will miss Monday’s conclusion to the group.
Undeterred, Patterson played a key role in the goal that settled lingering Scottish nervousness. McGinn, who was terrific all evening, backheeled into the 20-year-old’s path. Patterson laid a cross on a plate for Adams, who finished cleanly at the back post. A playoff berth was virtually secure with 25 minutes to play; it all felt pretty un-Scottish.
Adams had a goal ruled out for offside for the second time in the match. The striker had pounced after McGregor’s shot was saved. Moldova’s approach in imminent defeat became increasingly aggressive. Scotland had a swagger in their step; their fans in full voice until VAR entered the fray.
Patterson was adjudged to have handled in the area, as confirmed by the referee Srdjan Jovanovic after a pitchside check. Gordon, whose form at 38 remains outstanding, perhaps exorcised some Moldovan ghosts by batting away Vadim Rata's penalty. A perfect night for Clarke was rounded off by the handing of a debut to Stoke City's Jacob Brown. In respect of those in the stands, you were left with the impression of the evening only beginning. – Guardian