Shankland gets confidence booster as Scots avoid Euro 2024 injury scares

Billy Gilmour continued to impress.Billy Gilmour continued to impress.
Billy Gilmour continued to impress. | SNS Group
No party for Germany-bound heroes as Finns fight back

No, Scotland. No party. Not, at least, in the final dress rehearsal/curtain call for a Euro 2024 campaign that cannot come quickly enough.

But, of course, this was never about the result. Which is just as well. On a night when all anyone really cared about was getting key men to Germany without requiring an air ambulance, the final shots exchanged in the pre-tournament phoney war barely mattered.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Had the home side held onto their two-goal lead against Finland, nobody was going to be leaving Hampden roaring about Steve Clarke’s men playing themselves into fearsome form ahead of Friday night’s meeting with the hosts in Munich. The fact that the game ended 2-2 is, ultimately, of little import.

On a night when Lawrence Shankland grabbed a much needed and wildly celebrated goal, in a game where Craig Gordon came off the bench to bid a slightly unsatisfying farewell to a fan base who showed their appreciation in grand style, the Scots coming through the game unscathed was important. The Tartan Army are entitled to think that, if Billy Gilmour avoids injury, their team will have a chance to do something special against Hungary and Switzerland, at least.

So what were the key talking points we can take away from an occasion that was part send-off, part semi-competitive bounce match and just a little bit like a pre-season friendly? Let’s take a look:

Hampden does love its heroes

With Andy Robertson captaining the side for a remarkable 49th time, and a respectable turnout delivering a spine-tingling second verse of the anthem in finest a cappella fashion, there was obviously going to be a certain air of festivity about the occasion. And the roar that greeted Scotland’s opener, an own-goal despite the best attempts of the in-stadium announcer to reward the skipper for his low cross that ended up in the back of the net, was an undoubted high point on the night.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Especially as it was followed by a goal that felt a long time in the coming, Shankland beating his marker to head home another brilliant Robertson delivery to make it 2-0. Everyone inside Hampden recognised how much the Hearts striker needed that one; the hope is that he takes confidence from this moment into the tournament.

If Clarke was a character more prone to emotional knee-jerk reactions, you might have viewed his decision to keep Shankland in the starting XI as a direct rebuttal to the criticism levelled at the Hearts striker following his anonymous showing against Gibraltar on Monday night. But the Scotland boss doesn’t do anything without a plan or a reason; he understood the value in giving the forward a chance to play his way into a better headspace.

Che Adams remains favourite to start against Germany. Tommy Conway looked lively as a late sub. But Shankland has to be feeling better about himself after this.

Billy Gilmour is built for the challenge ahead

Seriously. The midfielder has so much swagger, such assurance about everything he does, passing off both feet and turning difficult balls into easy examples of superb control, that he might have been designed specifically for the task of controlling the centre of the park in a Scotland jersey. On the biggest stage.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The greatest compliment you can pay Gilmour is that, when he takes to the field in Munich to face the likes of Gundogan, Wirtz and Musiala, he will not look out of place. He was slightly unlucky not to score early in the second half last night. Easily the best player on the park. Again.

The back three needs tightened up

We all know how good Grant Hanley CAN be for Scotland. How good he HAS been, even. And there is hope that he gets up to speed over the coming week, because there’s no denying his pedigree – when match fit.

At the moment, it feels like Kieran Tierney is an absolute stick-on, for obvious reasons; he’s Scotland’s best defender and one of their best attacking options – and not just because his rampaging runs carry the element of surprise. Beyond that, Hanley, Jack Hendry and Ryan Porteous are fighting for the other two starting places.

The ovation for Craig Gordon was genuinely moving

Which made it a shame that he lost a couple of goals – through no real fault of his own – after coming in for a farewell appearance. He’s been a wonderful servant for club(s) and country, a great pro whose personal story of triumphing over adversity contributed to the warmth of the reception he got last night. Go well, big man. And thanks for everything.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Friendlies should be banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention

This applies especially to final warm-up games on the eve of a major tournament. Nobody likes them. Yet they’re almost certainly a necessity for coaches looking to finalise selections and bring any undercooked players just that bit closer to the boil.

Maybe they should all be played behind closed doors. Or even, as anyone who experienced the freezing temperatures on an insanely cold June night in Glasgow would agree, indoors.

The forecast for Munich next Friday night is for mild, even pleasant, conditions. A perfect setting for the white heat of proper competition. There’s nothing like it.