Faroe Islands 0 Scotland 1
One down, one to go. That bare statistic, meaning that a Scotland win in Moldova next month will take them to the World Cup playoffs, belies the epic struggles Steve Clarke’s team encountered against the Faroe Islands.
Scotland toiled to such an extent that the euphoric celebration that greeted the crucial weekend win over Israel felt like it belonged in another age. With 86 painful minutes played, a cross from the substitute Nathan Patterson was shanked against Lyndon Dykes by the Faroese defender Hordur Askham. Dykes knew little about it – and had to survive a supposedly never-ending VAR check – but the goal stood.
It was Dykes’s fourth in the same number of consecutive international games, a feat not achieved in Scottish colours since 1969. Scotland have won four in a row for the first time since 2007. A fifth would elevate Clarke’s status even further.
They had suffered embarrassment in this rocky outpost before. Drawn qualifiers in 1999 and 2002 served as reminders that this clash would not prove a formality if the visitors’ attitude was wrong. By widespread consensus, the Faroes have improved considerably in recent times. Still, the scale of celebration at Hampden Park on Saturday would look plainly ridiculous upon reflection if the Scots could not swat their hosts aside. Clarke knew that all right; he spent the build-up to this fixture asserting why complacency would not creep into his camp. By the interval, Clarke’s sentiment looked pretty hollow.
Clarke was boosted by the return of Grant Hanley to his defence. The attacking nature of Scotland's line-up was emphasised by the deployment of Ryan Fraser as the only player on the right side of the field. With Che Adams injured, Ryan Christie joined John McGinn in support of Dykes.
The Faroes started confidently. Indeed, it took 21 minutes for Scotland to meaningfully test their goalkeeper. Scott McTominay’s low attempt from a tight angle was booted clear by Teitur Gestsson. Rather than inspire the visitors, this proved the precursor to a fantastic Faroes chance.
For reasons best known to themselves, the Scotland defence opted to stand back and admire a long kick out from Gestsson. The goalkeeper's opposite number, Craig Gordon, was forced into an excellent reflex stop from Ari Mohr Jonsson. As Sonni Nattestad sent a free header over Gordon's bar, Scotland had cause to consider the ghosts of Faroes past. Hanley, who has emerged as a key player for Clarke, looked especially unsettled.
Christie darted through to break the offside trap, nine minutes before the break, but looked up to discover none of his team-mates were in position to receive a cut-back. This rather summed up Scotland’s passive start to the game.
The Faroes, clearly a limited outfit, were playing the more coherent and effective football. Odmar Færø was next to take aim at Gordon’s goal, with Hanley deflecting the 31-year-old’s attempt wide. McTominay and Christie wasted opportunities before the interval but any Scotland goal would have been incredibly harsh on the Faroes. Håkan Ericson presided over the superior first-half team.
It was not at all difficult to envisage some profound words from Clarke towards his team before they, surprisingly, emerged unchanged. There was a minor uplift in the visitors' level. VAR involvement could not hand Christie a penalty despite a foul from Heini Vatnsdal; the Bournemouth man was offside earlier in the move. McTominay flashed a shot wide but Scotland were still lacking in potency.
The fact Israel were simultaneously easing towards victory over Moldova would hardly raise the spirits of the Tartan Army. The Faroes were by now diminished as an attacking force but, in a game noticeably low on tempo, Scotland were giving them no real cause for panic.
Scottish frustrations were epitomised by Dykes, whose needless booking means he will join Christie in missing the trip to Moldova through suspension. Perhaps belatedly, Clarke turned to the Celtic captain Callum McGregor with the game in its final quarter. The midfielder replaced Jack Hendry, leading to Scotland's most dominant spell.
Billy Gilmour, who had earlier miscued an effort from 19 yards, watched a tame effort saved by Gestsson after McGregor played the Norwich City loanee through. McGinn's chance was even better, but he aimed straight at the Faroese goalkeeper from six yards.
With 10 minutes to play, Scotland had a head of steam; but had they sufficient time? Just about, as it transpired. Patterson swung over a teasing ball from the right. Dykes attacked it in typical style, earning a break in the process. Clarke had little cause to care. Onwards to Chisnau, with the live hope that Scotland’s final Group F against Denmark in Glasgow will be nothing more than a glorified party. – Guardian