I settled down yesterday afternoon ready for one of those great footballing days that come along every now and again. I had the prospect of 4 matches in a row to keep me entertained (including Charlton v Brentford!) and to see if Scotland could get a win against Macedonia. It was an opportunity to run the rule over a few players who have returned to regular football in the Premiership and see just what Scotland could do.
I’m one of those strange people that wishes no ill to my Scottish cousins over the border to the North, I always try to watch the other home nations when I can, as well as the Republic of Ireland. I always have done, since the days of the Home Championships when I was a little lad and I always want them to do well.
With Scotland still reeling from the hammering they took in Norway last month, and the S.F.A once again seemingly trying their best to destabilise their own team, Scotland manager George Burley was up against it. With 9 players in the starting line up either having played or still playing in the Premiership, the time had come for Scotland to dig in and get a result.
Craig Gordon, the Sunderland goalie has endured a torrid time since his £9 million transfer 2 years ago, but yesterday, he was immense. His reflexes and strength kept Macedonia at bay throughout a nervous first half performance when Scotland could have been easily 2 goals down. It was the form that saw him so highly rated before joining Sunderland and he continued to excel throughout the first half.
Scotland were wobbling, but one incident seemed to change the whole game. Macedonia had been indulging in the type of behavior that would have embarrassed Eduardo but a drop ball was given. Scott Brown, the Celtic midfielder kicked the ball against a Macedonian player and it spun out for a corner to the Scots.
Macedonia were incensed and all went to try and get hold of Brown. Queue much pushing and shoving, shouting and finger pointing but the Scots wouldn’t bite. Half time went and half the Macedonian team came after Brown, but he slipped off down the tunnel. That incident completely changed the game. I don’t know what George Burley said at half time or if he even put something in the half time drinks, but the second half saw Scotland emerge as a different team.
Macedonia couldn’t cope and with Stephen Fletcher setting up Scott Brown for a cleverly flicked header, Scotland were in the ascendancy. Darren Fletcher was in his busy best, bustling and chasing, tackling and harrying everything. Macedonia had chances, but Gordon and the Scottish back four stood firm and then came the champagne moment. Take a bow, James McFadden. A wonderful solo run with 5 minutes to go, saw him bamboozle four Macedonians before putting the keeper on his backside and rolling the ball into an empty net.
It was another great goal for McFadden’s resume but one goal can’t answer the doubts that still hang over the undoubtedly talented striker. His return to the Premiership can only benefit Scotland, but he needs to return to a more consistent approach. The last 18 months have seen his form dip and blighted by injuries, his performances fluctuate wildly. On his day, he is Scotland’s most naturally gifted player but he needs to have more of those days.
At his time at Everton, McFadden was a firm favourite with the crowd but could infuriate as much as he delighted. For a player that scores the occasionally brilliant goal, he doesn’t score anywhere near the level his talent says it can. He showed both sides yesterday, missing an easy chance from 12 yards out, slashing his shot high and wide. 20 minutes later he danced his way through the Macedonian team and scored. Work that one out.
With Scotland having to beat Holland on Wednesday night, McFadden needs to have one of those nights in back to back matches. No doubt it’s a massive ask but Holland have already qualified. They don’t need to win and that could play in to Scotland’s hands. Good luck to them, I’ll be wishing them well.