Ukraine 0-0 Scotland: Steve Clarke’s side dig deep to seal PROMOTION to the top tier of the Nations League with a hard-fought draw in Poland
- Scotland needed a point to seal promotion to Pool A of the Nations League
- They were put under significant pressure but held out for a goalless draw
- They will now go into Pool A for the next Nations League following this result
- Meanwhile, Ukraine did not get the win they needed, and remain in Pool B
Depleted but, crucially, not defeated, there is no medicine as effective as the antidote of this heroic performance for Steve Clarke and virus-ridden Scotland.
They will now be the sole Home Nation in the top tier of the next incarnation of the Nations League after emerging from Krakow with the draw they needed.
And how they deserve to be there after overcoming illness and injury to take seven points from nine in the space of a week. That they will be replacing England makes it even sweeter.
Scotland battled hard to get a goalless draw against Ukraine to seal Nations League promotion
Steve Clarke and his coaching staff were delighted to get a hard-earned draw
Stuart Armstrong punched the air at the final whistle as Scotland got the result they needed
Ukraine (4-3-3): Lunin; Tymchyk, Zabarnyi, Matvienko, Mykolenko; Ignatenko, Stepanenko, Malinovskyi (Pikhalyonok 87); Yarmolenko (Zubkov 87), Dovbyk (Yaremchuk 75), Mudryk (Tsygankov 75)
Booked: Mudryk, Yarmolenko, Ignatenko, Malinovskyi
Manager: Oleksandr Petrakov
Scotland (4-5-1): Gordon; Hickey (Ralston 90), Hendry, Porteous, Taylor (Kingsley 71); Fraser (Christie 72), Jack (Armstrong 72), McGinn, McGregor, McLean; Adams (Dykes 79)
Booked: Hickey, Dykes, McCrorie
Manager: Steve Clarke
Not that the Tartan Army dared to crow about that until their promotion was confirmed. No wonder they were unusually quiet late on. It is hard to make noise with your heart in your mouth.
That is because this matters. For a country who have only been to one major tournament since 1998, the reward of a Pot Two seeding for Euro 2024 qualification – as well as the guarantee of a play-off place – is some incentive. They did not want for motivation, that is for sure.
Glorious sunshine had made way for black clouds and sodden cobbles in this quaint old city in the hours before kick-off, and there was a sense of foreboding for Clarke as the extent of their sickness bug became more apparent.
When the team news dropped 90 minutes before kick-off, you had to double check it was not posted from a spoof account. Six changes from the weekend win over Republic of Ireland, including a surprise debut for Hibernian centre-back Ryan Porteous. The makeshift backline – none of them would start with everyone fit – were seen in discussion during the warm-up. They were probably introducing themselves.
Never would Clarke have envisaged fielding this team for such a momentous game when naming his squad a fortnight ago. Eight of that number did not make it to Poland and his press conferences have been replaced by medical bulletins in recent days.
Scotland produced a battling performance to get the point they needed in Krakow
Craig Gordon stood firm as Ukraine pushed for a winner in the second half
Nonetheless, from adversity unlikely heroes can emerge and, before leaving Edinburgh on Monday, Clarke’s glass was still half full, even if it did contain rehydration salts. He had every reason to top up his tumbler come half-time. Scotland were playing well.
They could have led within 90 seconds had Andriy Lunin not reacted to flip Che Adams’ deflected shot around the post. There was another opening for Kenny McLean, who should have done better than wallop over the bar from eight yards. They even won a penalty, although that was correctly overturned for a non-existent handball.
This was not the cauldron of intimidation often entered on such nights in Eastern Europe. The neutral setting saw to that. But the volume was amplified when Ukraine did manage to breach Scotland’s defence on two occasions in the first half.
Winger Mykhalio Mudryk was watched by several Premier League clubs at Hampden Park last week. You can see why. He blazed by two white jerseys and centred from the left on eight minutes. Andriy Yarmolenko might as well have been stood alone in the city’s medieval plaza – Europe’s largest – such was the space afforded to him. But the former West Ham wideman lashed at the dropping ball and Scotland emerged unscathed. The poor folk behind the goal into which his volley was jettisoned might not have been so lucky.
Scotland celebrated in front of their travelling fans after the final whistle
Scotland later needed Craig Gordon to snaffle from Artem Dovbyk after Yarmolenko had shown far more composure in setting his team-mate free. But, after 45 minutes, it was so far, so good for the visitors.
The second half was nowhere near as cosy. So deep did Scotland retreat, the centre-backs might as well have worn goalie gloves. Gordon’s were certainly warm come the hour, twice repelling goal-bound blasts as Ukraine suddenly morphed into the energetic, inventive unit which had taken Scotland apart during June’s World Cup play-off.
Gordon was beaten on 80 minutes but so, too, was the post. Only just, mind, Ruslan Malinovskyi chiselling the paintwork with a super volley from 12 yards. Rookie Porteous then blocked inside the goalmouth during the nerviest of finales.
For those on the bench nursing dickie stomachs, it must have been a real churner. Not that they cared come the end. ‘We are going up’ they sang in concert with their supporters. It certainly made a welcome change from throwing up.