The supposed dawn of a new era didn’t quite arrive as Malky Mackay’s night as Scotland manager ended in defeat by the Netherlands. The national team welcomed new blood, but lost for the first time in 2017 as Memphis Depay’s goal gave the Dutch victory.
Mackay, the SFA performance director, opted to scatter a few new faces around his team, clearly determined to usher in change following Gordon Strachan’s tenure. The performance was competent but there was no punch, no cutting edge in the final third.
Callum McGregor, Ryan Jack, Ryan Christie and Jason Cummings all received their first caps on the night and will doubtless benefit from the experience in a fairly low-key friendly. Whether they collect any more in the future will be down to whoever Mackay and the SFA board select as Strachan’s long-term successor.
The game’s build-up was dominated by the SFA chief executive Stewart Regan announcing that Mackay won’t be Scotland’s permanent manager. The association’s performance director was merely deputising last night and will now revert to his full-time role.
He marked his managerial debut at international level by handing Celtic’s Kieran Tierney the captaincy, making him the fourth youngest player ever to skipper Scotland at the age of 20.
Opposite Mackay in the technical area was another man preparing to vacate the national chair. Dick Advocaat, the 70-year-old former Rangers manager, will end his third term as Dutch coach after Tuesday’s friendly in Romania. He hasn’t lost any of his passion despite being of pensionable age, remonstrating with French referee Ruddy Buquet from the touchline on more than one occasion.
Like Scotland, the Netherlands failed to qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals and are attempting to begin the rebuilding process. Advocaat selected a fairly strong side with plenty experience of British football via England’s Premier League. Mackay gave international debuts to McGregor, Jack and Christie from the start in an attempt to nurture some of the country’s emerging talent.
It was a fairly sombre atmosphere at Pittodrie. Scotland might have raised the decibel level in the opening minutes but efforts at goal by striker Matt Phillips and winger James Forrest were blocked.
Phillips then fastened on to Tierney’s long ball forward but, entering the penalty area, lacked conviction. His eventual shot was saved by the Netherlands’ Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen. The Tartan Army would have been satisfied with an encouraging start.
Hibs midfielder John McGinn and Hearts captain Christophe Berra were central figures for the Scots, but uncapped Hibs defender Paul Hanlon was left on the bench. McGinn’s energy and tenacity in midfield helped interrupt some of the Oranje passing rhythm, and saw him compete well against illustrious opponents like Daley Blind, Kevin Strootman and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Berra was by some distance the most experienced defender in dark blue. He helped guide others through the first half, including young Tierney beside him at centre-back and Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack at right-back. Charlie Mulgrew took over from the Hearts player at the interval.
Tierney showed an intent to step forward and initiate attacks from central defence. On 36 minutes, he spotted an opportunity for a shot on goal from 25 yards. Cillessen had to be alert to push what was a vicious drive to safety. Scotland broke again moments later but, after delaying an incisive delivery into the danger zone, they lost possession and were ruthlessly punished.
The Dutch sprung forward at pace through midfield, Wijnaldum fed striker Ryan Babel on the right and his cross was converted by the onrushing Depay.
The Netherlands, as perhaps would be expected, were enjoying the lion’s share of possession. Scotland tried to force the issue after the interval but, if the truth be told, missed a focal point in attack. Phillips is best utilised on the wing and looked lost at centre-forward.
Even when a chance might have arisen, like on 55 minutes when Cillessen slipped with Virgil van Dijk’s backpass at his feet, the hosts couldn’t capitalise. Leigh Griffiths’ absence through injury left the former Hibs striker Cummings as the only recognised striker in Mackay’s experimental squad. He remained on the substitutes’ bench until four minutes from the end, when he emerged to earn his first senior cap.
From McGinn’s pass, McGregor forced a decent save from Cillessen with a 25-yard shot on 67 minutes. The visitors were restricting Scotland to attempts from distance until Ryan Fraser replaced James Forrest. Seconds after his introduction, the Bournemouth winger took a beautiful first touch to control Tierney’s crossfield pass and sprinted in behind Nathan Ake. His left-footed shot from 16 yards rolled narrowly wide of target.
They home support were off their seats again soon after when Cummings made his rather belated entrance and almost scored with his first touch. From Phillips’ inside pass, the Nottingham Forest forward dispatched a left-footed shot which Cillessen collected.
Phillips then wasted a free header from Fraser’s corner by barely getting a glance on the ball despite being unmarked ten yards from goal. That moment epitomised Scotland’s fate on an evening when new faces arrived but a familiar scenario played out.
Scotland (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Jack, Berra (Mulgrew 46), Tierney, Robertson; McLean, McGinn; Forrest (Fraser 71), McGregor (Cummings 86), Christie; Phillips. Unused subs: Archer, Marshall, Cooper, Hanlon, Paterson, Shinnie.
Netherlands (4-3-3): Cillessen; Fosu-Mensah (Veltman 71), Van Dijk, Rekik, Ake; Wijnaldum, Blind, Strootman; Promes (Berghuis 76), Babel, Depay. Unused subs: Zoet, Padt, Van Ginkel, De Ligt, Van de Beek, Propper, De Jong, Sneijder, Vilhena.
Referee: R Buquet (France).