Rampant Scots gain another pre-Euros lift

Scott Brown takes the acclaim of Ikechi Anya, left, and Steven Naismith
Scott Brown takes the acclaim of Ikechi Anya, left, and Steven Naismith
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Scotland manager Gordon Strachan feels his side’s 1-0 friendly win in Poland is more evidence of steady progress but does not believe it will count for anything when they return to Warsaw on Euro 2016 duty.

Scott Brown hit his second winner in two internationals as Scotland stretched their unbeaten run to five games with a third consecutive away win.

Brown lashed home from 18 yards in the 78th minute after Charlie Adam’s header had been half-cleared following good work from Steven Naismith and an Ikechi Anya cross.

Strachan wants to see more of such creative play and he was happy to see his side frustrate the hosts for large periods of the game. “We were a bit fortunate, we understand that, but a lot of things are working,” he said. “We are trying to be more potent when we get the ball back. We need to be more confident and trusting in people, like we did with the goal. We passed the ball and made defenders defend.

“We need more of that but we are getting to understand that. But at the moment people are finding it hard to play against us, which is a start.”

Scotland return to Warsaw’s National Stadium in October for a European Championship qualifier but Strachan dismissed suggestions the friendly win could have a bearing. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I think we all know that sitting here. It could have gone either way.”

Strachan added: “I’m sure there will be more attackers on the pitch for both sides when we play them again. But we saw the stadium and the support and the enthusiasm of the team we will play against.”

Strachan, who reintroduced Darren Fletcher to the international fold after a 16-month absence through a chronic bowel condition, reserved special praise for Brown, who also hit the winner in Norway in November. “I thought he was fantastic,” Strachan said. “James Morrison was excellent beside him in the first half. He’s ungamely in a way but he does what all good midfielders do: pass the ball, keep it, move it on. But then he has got the power to win the ball back. He can be really pleased with himself.”

Returning Manchester United midfielder Fletcher started on the bench, with his namesake Steven in attack alongside Leeds United captain Ross McCormack. David Marshall was preferred to Allan McGregor in goal and Charlie Mulgrew lined up at left-back with Barry Bannan on the right of midfield and Ikechi Anya on the left. Gordon Greer beat off competition from Christophe Berra to start at left centre-back in place of the injured Grant Hanley.

Poland, who were without injured Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, started with Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny with former Celtic player Artur Boruc on the bench. The match started with the roof closed at Warsaw’s National Stadium, where Scotland will return in October for their third Euro 2016 qualifier.

Marshall made two decent first-half saves from long-range shots from Ludovic Obraniak and then Arkadiusz Milik but was largely untroubled.

Scotland’s only other first-half scare came when Poland right-back Lukasz Piszczek ran in to meet Greer’s headed clearance but the Brighton defender charged out well to help force the skipper to blaze wide from 18 yards. Scotland created their first chance in the closing seconds of the half when Brown committed a defender in the box and played Alan Hutton in through the right channel.

The right-back had three team-mates closing in on goal but could not find a pass and elected to shoot from a tight angle, only for Szczesny to block at his near post. Darren Fletcher came on at half-time for Morrison while Naismith replaced Steven Fletcher. The visitors were soon under pressure from Obraniak’s deep left-wing cross but Piszczek volleyed well over.

The game was opening up and Slawomir Peszko shot straight at Marshall before Mulgrew released Anya down the wing, but the Watford player crossed behind the well-placed Naismith.

Scotland soon carved a better chance when Bannan’s pass allowed Naismith to run at the outnumbered home defence. The Everton player laid the ball off for McCormack 18 yards out but Piszczek threw himself in front of the shot and blocked.

Poland should have scored in the 58th minute after Hutton was booked for bringing down Peszko. Obraniak’s free-kick handed Kamil Glik a free header eight yards out but the centre-back sent it a yard wide.

Scotland were cut open following a quick passing move as Obraniak lifted the ball over the Scotland defence for Milik to run on to but he shot over under pressure. Dundee United teenager Andy Robertson came on for his debut midway through the half along with fellow full-back Phil Bardsley.

Strachan then sent Charlie Adam on for McCormack and the substitute was quickly involved in the winning goal. Naismith held up a throw-in before laying it off to Anya, whose right-wing cross found Adam. The Stoke player’s header was half-cleared and Brown ran in to power a shot into the roof of the net from 18 yards and maintain Scotland’s momentum.

Further adding to the feelgood factor was the impressive debut outing for 19-year-old Robertson. “Andy came on there and the first time he picked it up he drove about 30 yards,” Strachan said. “I thought: ‘that’s fantastic’. Absolutely no grey area, I’m going to do what I do. I loved seeing that first touch.”