Scotland 3-0 Ukraine: How Steve Clarke’s side were boosted by a painful summer


Two late Lyndon Dykes headers added gloss to the scoreline

After Scotland’s outstanding performance at Hampden, the message from the captain and manager was unanimous. “The summer hurt us a lot,” said John McGinn, while Steve Clarke added that “the players suffered more than anyone.”

Wednesday’s encounter with Ukraine in the Nations League wasn’t just about topping the visitors at the top of Group B1. It was also to prove that this Scottish side can bounce back. And boy, did they manage that.

Three months after a World Cup play-off defeat dashed optimism, the Scots turned the tables on the same opposition in stunning fashion at Hampden with a deserved 3-0 victory.

“Sometimes in football you have to respond,” Clarke told Premier Sports. “It’s nice that you responded in this way.

“We did a lot of work in the short time we had, a lot of very boring work in the conference room, and of course they took everything into account. They were excellent.”

Great John McGinn

When the Tartan Army break out their ‘Super John McGinn’ anthem, there is of course a tongue-in-cheek element to the line that the Aston Villa captain is ‘better than Zidane’, even if some people think so. him

What’s not in doubt, however, is the line that precedes it: “He’s Stevie Clarke’s man.”

The former Hibernian and St Mirren midfielder is one game away from a half-century of trophies. In the first of 14 appearances for Gordon Strachan, Alex McLeish and Malky Mackay, McGinn failed to score or provide an assist.

In 35 games under Clarke, the 27-year-old has scored 20 goals – scoring 14 and assisting six – which is 12 more than any other player.

With Callum McGregor and Scott McTominay set up as a twin pivot in midfield in a revamped 4-2-3-1 system, McGinn was given license to run behind Che Adams and use his wicked backline to his advantage, scoring the opening goal.

He also managed more shots (six) than any other player on the pitch, making seven touches in the opposition box and creating two clear chances.

It is McGinn’s drive and effort that endears him most to Scotland’s backline, and that was evident again at Hampden, where he won 10 of his 14 duels and regained possession five times in the final third.

“We’re back to doing what we do well, being awesome to play against and showing the will,” McGinn told Premier Sports. “We know we are a good team and we owed this kind of performance to the supporters, the manager and, above all, to ourselves.”

Dykes’ impact highlights the teams depth

A bold system change that ultimately paid off, and a much improved showing compared to the summer performances as the main positive.

But captain Andy Robertson and centre-backs John Souttar and Liam Cooper, plus late call-ups Grant Hanley and Jacob Brown, Scotland’s chances still look strong.

This was highlighted by the performance of Brentford right-back Aaron Hickey, who came on for the injured Nathan Patterson in the first half, and Lyndon Dykes’ goal cameo as Chris Burke was the first substitute to get a brace for Scotland against Bulgaria. May 2006

Lyndon Dykes

Ryan Fraser, who assisted two Dykes’ headers, impressed from the bench, despite both having “the hump with the head coach”, as Clark mischievously put it.

Two accurate headers took Dykes’ tally for Scotland to an impressive eight goals in 23 caps, with striker Clarke determined to play with the Republic of Ireland at Hampden on Saturday.

“I was disappointed not to play, but I came on and changed the game,” Dykes told Premier Sports. “For Scotland, my goal record has been good.”

The unlikely hero plays his part

Many of the “boring jobs” that Clark mentioned can involve hours of drilling. Both Dykes’ leaders came from two Fraser corners, and both teams and managers were quick to praise former Hearts manager Austin MacPhee.

MacPhee specializes in training with the national team and Premier League side Aston Villa, and Clarke praised his influence, noting that “the lads are listening to what the moves should be”.

“Credit to Austin,” Dykes added. “He’s been really good since he came in. When I came in he told me to go first. I went to the front twice and scored two.”

“Shout out to Austin,” Arsenal left-back Kieran Tierney said. “We had a few meetings for that. You don’t have much time to work but the preparation he does is excellent.”