How Scott McTominay emerged as Scotland’s unstoppable force

·4-min read
Steve Clarke has Scotland dreaming of reaching another major tournament  (Action Images via Reuters)
Steve Clarke has Scotland dreaming of reaching another major tournament (Action Images via Reuters)

Scott McTominay took off and then kept on running. After timing his arrival into the box to perfection, catching the volley sweetly to double Scotland’s lead against Spain, McTominay continued along what was a pleasing curve along the touchline amid the chaos, soaking in the scenes of utter disbelief in the Hampden stands alongside Kieran Tierney. McTominay ended his run at Steve Clarke, the manager who has unlocked this remarkable goalscoring spell. In Clarke’s typical understated manner there was a pause, followed by a pat to acknowledge that his Scotland players had listened carefully to his words.

Clarke had challenged Scotland to write themselves into the history books. With references to Kenny Dalglish and his iconic goal to seal Scotland’s previous win over Spain in 1984, Clarke said this team would be remembered for years to come if they could repeat the feat. By full-time they had, and McTominay could take in Hampden’s greatest night under Clarke and with this team. Scotland were looking up, sitting at the top of Group A, and with a new generation able to get giddy at the picture of a perfect start to qualifying.

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Erling Haaland was supposed to be the scorer whose goals blew Euro 2024 qualification open for Norway. Instead, it is a midfielder based on the other side of Manchester who is firing his country at the rate of two goals a game. McTominay’s famous double against Spain came three days on from a six-minute brace against Cyprus. A player who has been used at centre-back in this Scotland side, and who has started just once in the Premier League since Casemiro took his place in Manchester United’s midfield, has been released by Clarke and the national team.

McTominay was close to unstoppable, fuelled by the force of belief that Clarke has fostered within Scotland. John McGinn was everywhere too, his body whirring and charging into challenges, probing and prodding Spain into frustration. Scotland thrived on the atmosphere that built on McTominay’s early opener and an inexperienced Spain side, pushed to the limits of their own emotions, were not prepared for the battle they were drawn into. Rodri, who captained Spain, accused Scotland of slowing the game down. “This is not football,” he complained.

Clarke would not have minded, this was his football. Amid jubilant scenes at full time, the Scotland manager allowed himself a couple of minutes on the touchline before going inside for a glass of water. “It was good,” came Clarke’s measured assessment; the 59-year-old is not a figure to evoke a strong emotional response, but his work had done the talking on the pitch. After signing a new contract through to the 2026 World Cup, Clarke hailed an important step forward with a result against one of the world’s top teams.

Spain were a sorry sight by comparison. The reign of Luis de la Fuente is off to an inauspicious start, while the Spain manager’s verdict that he was “satisfied” with his side’s performance already has the look of a comment that comes to mark a doomed spell in charge. De la Fuente did not help himself by making eight changes from the team that defeated Norway 3-0 in Spain’s opening game, and could even be accused of arrogance for his weakened selection. If Scotland have put down a marker in Group A, it means Clarke’s side will not be taken so lightly again.

Scotland face Norway and Georgia in June (Getty Images)
Scotland face Norway and Georgia in June (Getty Images)

Clarke will also ensure that his players remain grounded, and at times it can seem as if there is no one better at that. “You don’t qualify with six points,” was his response. But the group that Andy Robertson warned was the “toughest” in the Euro qualifiers could not be off to a better start, ahead of further tests to come. Haaland should be back when Scotland travel to Oslo in June, while Georgia showed there is more to their team than Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in their 1-1 draw against Norway, which has given Scotland some early breathing space.

Scotland can’t afford to relax and nor will they, given they have made just one appearance at a major tournament in the past 25 years. The era of Scotland’s previous win over Spain, which led to qualification for the 1986 World Cup and arriving in Argentina as one of the favourites, is long gone. Clarke, then 21, stood on the banks of Hampden as Dalglish sealed their 3-1 win almost 40 years ago. “You speak about games like that forever,” he had said this week. But now Scotland have made new history, on a night for new heroes.