Lyndon Dykes takes Scotland closer to play-offs with winner against Faroes
That a Scotland win in Moldova next month will take them to the World Cup play-offs belies the struggles Steve Clarke’s team encountered against the Faroe Islands.
They toiled to such an extent that the euphoric celebration that greeted the crucial win over Israel on Saturday felt like it belonged in a bygone age. With 85 minutes played, a cross from the substitute Nathan Patterson was shanked against Lyndon Dykes by the Faroese defender Hørdur Askham.
Dykes knew little about the ball flying off his chest and into the net – Scotland had to survive an interminable VAR check – but the goal stood.
Clarke has therefore avoided the scenario where Scotland would likely have to go to match 10 of 10, against a rampant Denmark side, to seal a play-off berth. This remains within Scotland’s grasp against the Moldovans, ranked 180 in the world.
“Patience and belief were key,” said Clarke. “This game was nervous. It was about showing a different side to the team.”
It was Dykes’s fourth goal in the same number of consecutive international games, a feat not achieved in Scottish colours since 1969. Scotland have won four back-to-back for the first time since 2007. A fifth is the one this football nation truly cherishes. “We have put ourselves in a really good position,” Clarke added. “Let’s make sure we finish the job.”
They had suffered embarrassment in this rocky outpost before. Drawn qualifiers in 1999 and 2002 served as reminders that this clash would not prove a formality if the visitors’ attitude was wrong. By widespread consensus, the Faroes have improved considerably in recent times. Still, the scale of celebration at Hampden Park on Saturday would look plainly ridiculous upon reflection if the Scots stumbled in Torshavn. Clarke knew that all right; he spent the build-up to this fixture asserting why complacency would not creep into his camp. By the interval, Clarke’s sentiment looked pretty hollow.
It took 21 minutes for Scotland to meaningfully test the Faroes’ goalkeeper. Scott McTominay’s low attempt from a tight angle was booted clear by Teitur Gestsson. Rather than inspire the visitors, this proved the precursor to a fantastic Faroes chance.
For reasons best known to themselves, the Scotland defence opted to stand back and admire a long kick out from Gestsson. The goalkeeper’s opposite number, Craig Gordon, was forced into an excellent reflex stop from Ari Mohr Jonsson. As Sonni Nattestad sent a free header over Gordon’s bar, Scotland had cause to consider the ghosts of Faroes past.
Ryan Christie darted through to break the offside trap, nine minutes before the break, but looked up to discover none of his teammates were in position to receive a cut-back. This rather summed up Scotland’s passive start to the game. Odmar Færø was next to take aim at Gordon’s goal, with Grant Hanley deflecting his attempt wide. McTominay and Christie wasted opportunities before the interval but any Scotland goal would have been incredibly harsh on the Faroes. Håkan Ericson presided over the team playing the more coherent first-half football.
It was not at all difficult to envisage some profound words from Clarke towards his team before they, surprisingly, emerged unchanged. There was a minor, but initially only that, uplift in the visitors’ level of performance. VAR involvement could not hand Christie a penalty despite a foul from Heini Vatnsdal; the Bournemouth man was offside earlier in the move.
McTominay flashed a shot wide but with half an hour to play, Scotland were still lacking in potency. The fact Israel, still in pursuit of the Scots in Group F, were simultaneously heading to victory over Moldova would hardly raise the spirits of the Tartan Army. The Faroes were by now diminished as an attacking force but, in a game noticeably low on tempo, Scotland were giving them no real cause for panic. Scottish frustrations were epitomised by Dykes, whose soft booking means he will join Christie in missing Moldova through suspension.
Clarke turned to the Celtic captain Callum McGregor with the game in its final quarter. The midfielder replaced Jack Hendry, leading to Scotland’s most dominant spell of the game. Billy Gilmour, who had earlier miscued an effort from 19 yards, watched a tame effort saved by Gestsson after McGregor played the Norwich City loanee through. McGinn’s chance was even better, with a header after Ryan Fraser picked him out with a glorious cross. McGinn aimed straight at the Faroese goalkeeper from six yards.
Gilmour tried again, this time with more conviction, but the shot flew wide. Scotland had a head of steam; but had they sufficient time? Just about. Patterson, who replaced Fraser, swung over a teasing ball from the right. Dykes attacked it in typical style, earning a break in the process. “Probably the less said about the performance the better,” said Scotland’s captain, Andy Robertson. “We didn’t play well at all but now we are close to what we set out to achieve. It’s important to keep that in mind.” Amen.