Scott McTominay’s late double adds the gloss as Scotland sink Cyprus
The steady stream of punters heading to the pub long before full-time told a story. Scotland’s road towards Euro 2024 will include significantly greater hurdles than that provided by Cyprus, and this stadium has witnessed far more enthralling encounters. Tuesday evening, when Spain come calling, should deliver a different scene entirely both on and off the pitch. Perhaps players and supporters alike were keeping powder dry.
Yet those who succumbed to the lure of the pint missed Scott McTominay, twice, adding gloss to their country’s victory. Scotland have made such a habit of starting qualifying campaigns poorly that victory, any victory, must be appreciated. It is perhaps a tacit indication of how they have progressed under Steve Clarke that a win like this is regarded as mundane. The presence of close to 50,000 spectators for a meeting with the world’s 110th-ranked team adds to the sense of an upwardly mobile Scotland setup.
Related: Scotland v Cyprus: Euro 2024 qualifying – live
For all that Clarke’s players laboured for long spells there was never really any sense that a limited Cyprus side could steal a point. Angus Gunn, making his Scotland debut in goal, enjoyed a peaceful afternoon. Ryan Porteous, winning only his second cap in central defence, was equally comfortable.
“It’s a really good start to the group,” said Clarke. “There were some good things and some things we need to get better at. We were really good for 30 minutes then got a little bit sloppy, a little bit casual.” Clarke’s reference to what “looks like a comprehensive win” further suggested he has underlying concerns that have been relayed to his squad.
John McGinn represents a statistical phenomenon in the sense that all 16 of his Scotland goals have come during Clarke’s tenure. McGinn first played for his country in 2016, three years before Clarke was appointed. The Aston Villa midfielder’s latest crucial strike came at the back post after an Andy Robertson cross was deflected into his path.
“We need to be honest with ourselves, we need to improve if we’re going to get to the Euros,” admitted McGinn. The 28-year-old is now Scotland’s seventh-highest scorer of all time. With time on his side he should leap further up that chart.
A Ché Adams drive that stung the palms of Demitris Demetriou was about the only other moment of danger provided by the hosts during the opening half.
Clarke has no wingers to call upon, meaning a key attacking threat had to be provided by Robertson and his fellow marauding full-back Aaron Hickey. This also renders McGinn’s potency even more useful.
Adams limped from proceedings 13 minutes into the second period, which looked ominous with Spain in mind. “He felt his calf tighten a little bit,” said Clarke. “It’s far too early to decide whether he can be in or out on Tuesday.” The Southampton man’s eagerness to run and press means any absence – which despite Clarke’s optimism looks likely – will be keenly felt.
Robertson’s low cross only narrowly evaded Hickey as Scotland, not particularly convincingly, chased a second goal. Lyndon Dykes, who replaced Adams, created it when it finally came. Ryan Christie’s looping cross was expertly controlled by Dykes, who duly nodded the ball down to McTominay and the Manchester United midfielder flicked high into Demetriou’s net.
Stoppage time provided a second McTominay goal, this time slammed home from close range after a Robertson pass. Christie, who excelled as a substitute, also played a part in the goal with his earlier cross only partly cleared. That McTominay also began the afternoon on the bench implied Clarke is mindful of managing minutes for players who are not automatic starters at their clubs. It would be a shock if McTominay is not restored to the midfield from the outset on Tuesday.
The visitors’ afternoon took a further turn for the worse as Nicholas Ioannou booted the ball away after the award of a free-kick. He was shown a second yellow card for that needless act of petulance. “Scotland won fairly,” said Temuri Ketsbaia, the Cyprus head coach. “I am very disappointed with my team. We have to learn from our mistakes.”
Scotland seemed perfectly aware they, too, will need to raise their standards.