Not quite the barn-storming start the Tartan Army would have hoped for but the merits of a strong substitutes bench told as Scotland’s big players again delivered for Steve Clarke.
John McGinn’s 16th international goal settled the Scots into the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign but it wasn’t until the late arrival of Scott McTominay that the true gulf between these teams was exposed.
Fellow sub Ryan Christie had a hand in both the Manchester United man’s late goals as the home side’s superior strength showed at a full, if slightly subdued Hampden.
Handed a tricky draw that effectively negated the team’s hard-earned elevation to second-seed status, Scotland needed to win this as a bare minimum.
In theory it should be the easiest game of the qualifying programme, a home tie against the group’s lowest-ranked side and, for the most part, Scotland were comfortably dominant.
Scotland made a winning start to their Euro 2024 campaign, beating Cyprus 3-0 on Saturday
Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn struck early in the first half to hand the hosts an advantage
Well organised and physically robust, Temuri Ketsbaia’s Cyprus might be capable of stretching their coach’s home nation of Georgia. There wasn’t much evidence to suggest they will have enough to pinch points from the likes of Spain or Norway.
With Craig Gordon out long term, Clarke had no option but to choose from a trio of uncapped goalkeepers. It was little surprise to see the newest face handed the gloves.
Liam Kelly and Zander Clark have been selected for numerous past international camps but neither was quite trusted enough to see a single minute of action.
English-born but fathered by former Scotland custodian Bryan, Gunn was given the chance to transfer his good form for Norwich to the national stage and, in front of him his club captain Grant Hanley was there to marshal a back three flanked by Ryan Porteous and Kieran Tierney.
The other big call for the coach was in central midfield. McTominay and Billy Gilmour have been big players for Clarke but neither is seeing much action at their respective employers.
Manchester United star Scott McTominay scored two goals late on to seal the win for Scotland
Instead, Ryan Jack got the nod to reprise his proven partnership with Old Firm rival Callum McGregor with Stuart Armstrong and McGinn encouraged to maraud in support of Ché Adams.
Clarke commenced his Scotland reign with a 2-1 win over the Cypriots at Hampden in 2019, a scoreline repeated in Nicosia later that year.
If those four years seem like another lifetime, the SFA’s decision to hand the coach an equivalent contract extension represents a significant show of faith.
Clarke achieved Nations League promotion with a back four last autumn but, with the axis of Tierney and Robertson restored, it made sense to revert to a three and use the Premier League pair’s attacking thrust.
Yet while much of Scotland’s early play was naturally funnelled down the left it was Aaron Hickey, deployed on the other flank, who fashioned the team’s first shot on target.
The Red Devils midfielder was Scotland’s super sub – netting in both the 87th and 93rd minute
The Brentford boy’s ability to effortlessly switch between feet left Nicholas Ioannou and Konstantinos Laifis in a pickle, but after successfully working the angle his near-post effort was beaten away by Demetrius Demetriou.
You wouldn’t have described the Cypriots as dangerous but Stuart Armstrong felt sufficiently threatened to commit a bookable foul on Grigoris Kastanos as he broke off the resultant corner and the same player delivered a 20-yard grass-cutter that required Gunn to show his safe hands for the first time.
The goal was a classic show of this team’s strengths.
Armstrong drove forward with his trademark ball-carrying brio and clipped a pass with the outside of his boot for the overlapping Robertson.
The captain’s cross to a nick off St Mirren’s Alex Gogic on the way across but McGinn didn’t break stride as he arrived to side-foot home a simple first-time finish. A hint of offside on the initial pass saw the goal subject to a VAR check, dampening the celebrations somewhat before confirmation was downloaded via referee Duje Strukan’s earpiece.
The way Scotland play doesn’t maximise goalscoring chances for the starting striker but a clever interchange with McGinn gave Adams a pop just before half-time. Demetriou helped the ball over the bar.
That was about it for the Southampton striker who departed the fray after taking a sore one as Gogic legitimately won the ball early in the second half.
In his place came Lyndon Dykes, his return to the international stage a minor triumph after his recent brush with pneumonia.
Steve Clarke’s men dominated the ball at Hampden Park, keeping 62 per cent of possession
The Queen’s Park Rangers man may lack some of Adams’ nous but he has been more prolific at this level and eagerly set about the task.
Armstrong, rivalled only by Hickey as Scotland’s top performer was withdrawn shortly after testing Demtriou with a shot with Jack also withdrawing from the midfield contest.
In their place came Ryan Christie and McTominay both of whose saw shots blocked in quick succession as the push intensified for a second.
The value of fresh legs told as three subs combined to settle the outcome. Ryan Christie charged to the byline and stood up a cross to the back post where Dykes cushioned a header into the path of McTominay.
Showing the instincts of a centre forward, the Old Trafford schemer used his thigh to work the angle to squeeze a left-foot finish inside the post.
His next owed much to the quick-thinking of McGinn, who fed Christie on the left with a quickly-taken free-kick. His low cross was partially cross but Robertson pounced and rolled a pass into McTominay’s path for a calm finish off his other foot.
Scotland will take on Luis de la Fuente’s Spain side in their next Euro 2024 qualifier on Tuesday
Demoralised, Cyprus’s discipline dissolved and masked wing-back Nicholas Ioannou was shown a second yellow card for booting the ball away.
Before that late flurry had come a heart flutter when Cyprus sub Andronikos Kakoulli pulled the trigger from distance, but Gunn had enough to repel the low bullet and keep a grip on the ball, the most testing moment of a debut that could best be described as competent.
A more exacting test of the goalkeeper’s mettle will come with the visit of Spain on Tuesday.
In transition under the new management of Luis de la Fuente, there will be a wildcard element to the visitors but they are certain to be a few levels up from Ketsbaia’s triers.
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