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Scott Brown's strike lifts Scotland at the start of Craig Levein era
* Brown 62
Czech Republic 0
* Andy Hunter at Hampden Park
scott Brown Scott Brown, left, celebrates with Kenny Miller, Darren Fletcher and Graham Dorrans after scoring what turned out to be Scotland's winner. Photograph: David Moir/Reuters
With more good fortune on one night than George Burley experienced in 20 months as Scotland's manager, Craig Levein swept a pragmatic but highly effective broom through Hampden Parktonight . The recovery was always liable to be arduous but all that matters is that it has begun.
The 45-year-old former Dundee United manager's international debut, against the Czech Republic, was significant on many fronts. Out went the lingering animosity towards those who helped undermine his predecessor's torturous era – at least if the warm reception for the refusenik Kris Boyd is anything to go by. And more importantly, in came the fierce work ethic, resilience and the flash of cutting edge that this Scotland team will always require to progress.
The match was rarely pretty in terms of performance but in stark contrast to the idealism that Burley strived for in vain this victory, Scotland's first in a friendly at Hampden Park for 14 years, met the criterion Levein had set for his first game. "The result is really important because we are trying to build some harmony and momentum before the [Euro 2012] qualifiers start," said the new manager. "I believe we have a good group of players but we haven't had recent experience of leaving here with a smile on our face. But the guys can go back to their clubs now happy and they will look forward to coming back for Scotland. That is important."
With only three wins from their previous 16 internationals, and those against the might of Macedonia and Iceland, plus the controversies of the dismal World Cup qualifying campaign still fresh, there was no chance of instant revolution for Scotland.
They were grateful to a profligate Czech attack and a commanding display from Craig Gordon for the foundations of victory, yet there was also an overwhelming sense, even on a night spent mostly on the back foot, of clear ideas being followed, a plan to suit the available players and, ultimately, it was well-executed.
There were only five survivors from the team that started Burley's final game in Cardiff five months ago as Levein selected his first side with the stated aim of making Scotland hard to beat. He certainly succeeded on that score, although the Czech's dominance at the start of both halves made for a testing evening for the crowd and they were not slow to voice their displeasure before Scott Brown finished off an excellent team move in the 62 minute.
The visitors had dominated the early exchanges to such a degree that it took 33 minutes for a Scotland player to touch the ball inside the Czech penalty area.
Bordeaux's Jaroslav Plasil was immediately prominent and sent the first two chances of the contest wide of Gordon's goal, the first with a low drive from distance and the clearer opening when he headed Michal Kadlec's free-kick over at the near post. The warnings came frequently and Levein's team – and Darren Fletcher in particular – were indebted to Gordon when the Scotland captain's error enabled Tomas Rosicky to release Vaclav Sverkos free on goal, only for the Sunderland keeper to stand tall and save well.
It was not until the closing stages of the first half that Alan Hutton and Lee Wallace, the Scotland full-backs, began to venture forward and Brown, released from the holding role, exerted more influence in the Czech half. Barry Robson's 45th-minute free-kick was Scotland's first shot on goal but the visitors continued to plough forward after the restart, Gordon denying Sverkos impressively again from 18 yards.
With Hampden's unease becoming vocal, a patient, intelligent attack brought Levein's team a lead that caught all by surprise. Kenny Miller and Graham Dorrans led the attack before the West Bromwich midfielder switched the play superbly to release Wallace down the left. The Hearts full-back picked out Robson with a deep cross to the far post, the Middlesbrough midfielder found Brown with an intelligent header and the tenacious Celtic man swept the ball in from close range – a new beginning indeed.
Taken from the Guardian/Observer