Scotland comfortably beat Gibraltar 6-1 at Hampden Park tonight, thanks to goals from Shaun Maloney, Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher with the latter scoring a hat trick as the Scots ensured they moved on to ten points alongside the Germans who defeated Georgia 2-0.
Gordon Strachan picked an attack minded line up with Alan Hutton and Andy Robertson either side of Russell Martin in defence.
Ikechi Anya and Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie were to provide the width with Scott Brown, James Morrison and Shaun Maloney making up the midfield.
Steven Naismith was alongside Steven Fletcher in attack as the hosts went looking for goals at Hampden.
The shaky first twenty minutes was eased when Maloney won and converted a penalty. With Gibraltar ‘keeper Robba left to rue diving at Maloney’s feet, giving him an opportunity to leave his foot in and fall over. A cheap penalty from a defensive point of view but one which was duly dispatched by Maloney.
With Hampden expectant and demanding of more goals the home support were stunned when the next goal came at the other end.
Only one minute and twelve seconds had elapsed when Lee Casciaro ran on to a brilliant pass and buried his finish through the legs of an advancing David Marshall.
The ball nestled emphatically in the right hand corner of the Cardiff man’s net stunning Hampden in to a disbelieving silence.
Ikechi Anya was left chasing Casciaro and the Gibraltar forward made Strachan’s choice in formation look rather foolish. His well-timed run took advantage of a narrow defence and punished their more experienced hosts.
Fletcher and Naismith struck, either side of another Maloney penalty as Scotland went in 4-1 ahead but the first half and the game in general highlighted the technical side so clearly lacking from the Scottish game.
Scott Brown dropped deep to dictate the flow of the game as the formation allowed, his passing was crisp and direct as he looked to prompt attacking opportunities.
When the ball went in to the midfield though Scotland lacked the creativity required to properly hurt their opponents.
Fletcher was dropping five yards to open up space for midfield runners to go beyond but it took until the 42nd minute before a pass of that nature came off.
Maloney found himself in an inside left position, swiveled, lifted his head and played a perfect through ball for Anya to run on to. The chance petered out but it was the first time where Scotland had managed to turn their opponents defence.
Too often the players held on to the ball too long, the wide players never got their heads up quick enough and the forwards were making too similar runs and the Scots were struggling to stretch a poor Gibraltar team.
The tendency is to look at possession statistics and if you have dominated automatically think you’ve done alright but despite controlling the ball the players will no doubt look back and feel they should have done a lot better.
A true reflection would be how well they used the ball in advanced areas and Strachan will likely analyse that in weeks to come and look to work on it when the squad next meets.
There were too many stray passes, heavy touches and misguided flicks to paint a true impression on the game.
Nevertheless the result was more than convincing and the Scots can be proud of their campaign so far.
They’ve improved since the dark days of Levein and co but to really push on, on the international scene, we need to ensure our players work the ball a lot better when playing teams of this nature.
There’s a succinct difference between playing lovely flowing football and keeping possession in your own half.
The play needs to be quicker and incisive with less repetition. The ability to mix it up comes with fresher minds and varied ideas something the Scottish coaching structure has oft been slow in embracing.
Scotland overplayed at times in the wrong areas but they added to their first half efforts with Fletcher heading home at the back post to make it five and he claimed his hat trick with a terrific finish which he passed confidently in to the opposite corner.
A much harder test awaits in Dublin as Scotland face the Republic in June and to stand a chance of qualifying they really need to take something from that clash.
Ireland are a nation that Scotland should be looking to match and eventually overtake when looking ahead but that’s not to say they should be going there with any trepidation.
The task in the present day is all about qualification and Strachan will be more than happy to be in with a shout as the group sits at the halfway stage.
The result was satisfying, the performance was productive and there’s plenty to work on, going forward, both on and off the pitch.