Former Hibs and Hearts players shine as Scotland gain some redemption
It won’t make up for the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup – not even close – but Wednesday’s barnstorming victory over play-off foes Ukraine has immediately injected positivity back into the Scotland national team.
Steve Clarke’s side were everything they weren’t back in June. They played with energy, intensity, knocked the ball around purposefully, pressed relentlessly, defended well and created loads of chances. The result puts them to the top of the Nations League group, with the prize of a potential fall-back option if the European Championship qualifying campaign doesn’t go according to plan firmly back within their grasp.
Two former stars of football in Edinburgh played a significant role on the night, while another who remains in the Capital – Hearts captain Craig Gordon – happily adopted the role of contented spectator.
McGinn continued his excellent scoring record by mercifully breaking the deadlock on 71 minutes. The goal was so wonderfully, classically McGinn. The ex-Hibs midfielder used his biggest asset – his backside – to muscle the Ukrainian defender off the ball before driving a finish into the far corner.
“Super John McGinn”, a chant created in Leith and adopted by Scottish supporters everywhere, rang around the stadium as relief swept through the stands following a spate of misses in the second 45 prior to the opener.
And while there was no place for McGinn’s former club-mate Ryan Porteous to make his international debut, ex-Hearts defender Aaron Hickey did get a bit of redemption at the national stadium. Criticised for his play at right wing-back during the 3-1 defeat to Ukraine earlier this year, the Brentford man was forced into a similar position early in the first half after Nathan Patterson was stretchered off with an ankle injury.
Hickey grew into the match as things progressed and helped Scotland keep up their high press. He also had an opportunity himself to get on the scoresheet by running on to a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area following a drive run from his own half. The shot was deflected wide for a corner.
The hosts wouldn’t score from that set-piece, but they did twice in the latter stages through the head of Lyndon Dykes to top off a tremendous display.