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Scott Brown and James McFadden bring respite to Scotland
World Cup Euro Qual Gp 9
* Brown 56,
* Patrick Glenn at Hampden Park
Scotland v Macedonia, Scott Brown Scotland's Scott Brown, centre, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Macedonia. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/AP
Scotland's prospects of yet taking a place in the World Cup play-offs remain reed-slim but a difficult, at times even improbable, victory over Macedonia at Hampden Park at least saved them from expiry. The goals delivered by Scott Brown and James McFadden in an eventful second half rescued George Burley's team from potentially irrecoverable ignominy and earned the manager immunity from condemnation at least until Holland arrive for the final Group Nine match in Glasgow on Wednesday.
On a day when an early imposition of will seemed imperative for Burley's side, many in the partisan crowd found themselves hoping that an old superstition from golf would transfer to football – that a bad round more often than not starts with a birdie, and vice versa.
Those Tartan Army members rendered anxious by a fluently moving, slick-passing Macedonia team in the early stages would be overtaken by a collapse of form that would make them appreciably less menacing than they had shown themselves to be throughout the first half.
With the coach, Mirsad Jonuz, keeping faith with his pledge to deploy his players in an aggressive 4-3-3 formation whenever the occasion allowed, there was a sufficiency of threats from the yellow shirts to remind the home supporters of their own team's flaws through a campaign that had yielded a mere two victories from six previous outings, both against the bottom country, Iceland.
The Scots were noticeably less astute than their visitors during that period of the latter's ascendancy, struggling to use space as knowingly and as economically as opponents who worked Craig Gordon much more tellingly than the home players did Jane Nikolovski
Indeed, but for Gordon's saves from Goran Pandev, the Macedonians would have been at least two ahead by the interval. The Lazio striker opened with a fierce drive low to the goalkeeper's right from a touch back from Aco Stojkov and followed with another shot on target – this time slightly deflected by David Weir – that Gordon held diving to his left.
It was a measure of the Scots' general failure to make much of an impact in forward areas during those first 45 minutes that the defensive midfielder, Brown, should produce their two most promising scoring attempts. Brown sent a snap shot narrowly wide following a free-kick from McFadden on the right and was again marginally wide – this time to thew goalkeeper's left – when he received a free-kick from Darren Fletcher and turned sweetly past Igor Mitreski into space 16 yards from goal.
It was Brown, too, who finally ended the stalemate, but not before a series of shocking misses by both sides. The urgency of victory for both must surely have been impressed on the players before they took the field for the second half, as there was an aggressiveness about them that made no concession to the risk of losing a goal. In the circumstances of such a key match, the creation of opportunities was no surprise, but the scale of profligacy was monumental. McFadden began the roll by receiving a centre from Darren Fletcher on the right and turning past Goce Sedloski to leave himself with only Nikolovski to beat. McFadden then shanked and scooped the shot high and wide, making even more unbelievable the piece of virtuosity with which he would later produce the second goal.
Pandev was another shocking miscreant, the striker allowing Gordon time to advance from his line and block at his feet after Slavcho Georgievski had sent him clear inside the penalty area on a precise through-pass.
Kenny Miller's later squandering of two golden opportunities would have been sufficiently offensive in another line of work to have brought dismissal, but the Rangers striker was rescued from ignominy by Brown and McFadden.
The Celtic midfielder moved into a slot around the penalty spot in time to receive a forward chip from Steven Fletcher and, with a twist of his neck muscles, divert the ball with his forehead far to the left of Nikoloski. If there was a flurry of resistance from Macedonia thereafter it was short-lived, revealing the visitors as wanting in heart for a fight.
By the time McFadden struck, the visitors were admiring the Birmingham man's footwork as he carried the ball past three of them before fashioning the ultimate opening by dragging the ball into the space behind the goalkeeper. From there, he rolled it right-footed into the unprotected net.
Taken from the Guardian/Observer