Even the upcoming visit of a hapless Faroe Islands team to Hampden Park is unlikely to provide Steve Clarke with much solace. Two points from as many fixtures to open World Cup qualification means Scotland are already in the kind of tricky position that has fatally undermined campaigns of the recent past.
In Israel a sluggish first half undermined a quest for three valuable points. Clarke hoped for – and very possibly needed – so much more.
Scotland’s manager admitted “disappointment” was his overriding post-match emotion. “We didn’t start the game well,” Clarke said. “As always, this group showed good character. They had a really good second half and with a bit of luck could have come away with more. It is what it is, we take the point and move on.”
Three tight matches between these teams in 2020 alone meant the potential for elements of surprise appeared remote. Scotland, though, handed a first start to the Southampton striker Che Adams. That Clarke could convince Adams to pledge allegiance to the Scots – he qualifies via a grandparent – has been viewed as something of a coup. Scotland haven’t enjoyed the services of a prolific forward for decades, perhaps rendering concurrent international struggles as no coincidence. In theory, Adams is a significant upgrade on those already available to Clarke.
Progression to this summer’s European Championships has raised the spirits of a football nation. It seems reasonable to infer this achievement played a part in Adams, a former youth international with England, being so receptive to Clarke’s advances.
Israel’s 2-0 defeat to Denmark to open Group F meant the enthusiastic opening by the hosts was understandable. Perhaps the appearance of 5,000 spectators in Tel Aviv was a further boost to Israel’s competitive spirit. Scotland spent the first half-hour in defensive mode, in a manner reminiscent of the 2-2 draw with Austria on Thursday.
Manor Solomon should have done better when afforded clear sight of David Marshall’s goal, with the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder pulling his shot wide. In response, Scott McTominay missed the target having met an Andy Robertson corner.
Solomon’s next attempt, following an ominous parting of the Scottish defence after 24 minutes, saw Marshall produce a reaction save. In Scotland’s finest attacking move of the opening half, 10 minutes later, Ryan Fraser overhit a pass as Adams charged down on goal.
Israel were soon more ruthless, albeit Marshall will feel he should have saved Dor Peretz’s strike from 25 yards. Peretz was given far too much space and time to line up his effort; a level of generosity that rather summed up Scotland’s first period. Marshall had now been at least partly culpable for the concession of two goals in as many international games.
Acknowledgement of a dismal first 45 minutes from the Scots was delivered by Clarke. The introduction of Ryan Christie for Jack Hendry meant the system reverted from 3-4-3 to 4-2-3-1. Kieran Tierney now found himself in the unusual position of left centre-half in a back four.
The switch soon paid dividends. Adams showed pace and power on the counterattack before playing the ball infield to Fraser. The Newcastle man steadied himself before slamming beyond Ofir Marciano from 18 yards. Adams stung the palms of Marciano as Scotland endorsed their new-found confidence. Tierney was next to test the goalkeeper, this time with a fierce attempt from long range.
That a draw would not be particularly useful to either team, even at such an early qualifying stage, made for an entertaining finish to the match.
McTominay lacked conviction with a shot that was easily blocked as Scotland pushed once more. Peretz received a booking after his desperation to earn victory for Israel manifested itself in a dive as Robertson challenged. At the end of a more endearing phase of Israel attacking, Stephen O’Donnell blocked smartly from Solomon.
Robertson spurned Scotland’s best hope of snatching victory during stoppage time. Clarke and his men can reach Qatar from here but their path has very quickly been filled by obstacles. “Let’s see what happens later in the group,” said the ever-stoical Clarke. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.” The words just about disguised his frustration.