Republic of Ireland 3-0 Scotland: 'Steve Clarke's side searching for answers after Dublin debacle'

Republic of Ireland 3-0 Scotland: ‘Steve Clarke’s side searching for answers after Dublin debacle’

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon was beaten three times in Dublin as Scotland turned in an abject display

Watching Scotland getting eaten whole by a hungry Ireland team at the Aviva on Saturday summoned up an image from one of those David Attenborough programmes, where the cocksure wildebeest wanders into the wrong part of the Serengeti only to be pounced on by a ravenous lion.

Scotland entered a den and they weren’t ready for it. The scale of the failure took the breath away. There wasn’t one redeeming feature, which deepens the confusion.

How could so many play so badly at the same time? Maybe their heads weren’t right in the first place. Maybe they thought that Ireland, with their lamentable home record, couldn’t hurt them, but they would have been disabused of that notion very quickly.

We’re casting around for theories here. Everybody could see what happened, but why did it happen? The confidence of arrogance? Tiredness? Is it as simple as players just hitting a terrible run of form at the wrong time? Could it be that the dejection of the loss to Ukraine still lingers?

Unquestionably, they’re not the same team when Kieran Tierney is not around.

Steve Clarke said he’d have to sleep on it before commenting further. He was “at a loss” to explain it. If he managed to nod off in Dublin there’s every chance the memory of this would have come to him in a nightmare.

One goal down on 20 minutes after his players allowed Shane Duffy – whose danger at corners is not exactly a trade secret – a free header that Alan Browne, undetected by a comatose defence, forced over the line.

Two goals down after 29 minutes when Troy Parrott ran away from Jack Hendry and Anthony Ralston and headed past Craig Gordon.

Three goals down after 51 minutes when Billy Gilmour got ransacked by Jayson Molumby and Michael Obafemi launched his rocket.

It could have been more. Scotland were so inept in everything they did they made Ireland look terrific. How obliging of the Scots to give Stephen Kenny a dig-out when the home manager was in such despair.

It was the first time Ireland had scored three goals at home in a competitive game in eight years. Scotland became only the fourth country that they’ve beaten in Dublin in a competitive game in seven years – Georgia, Moldova and Gibraltar were the others. It was Kenny’s first home win in a competitive game at the ninth attempt. It was only their sixth victory in 25 matches under Kenny.

It was won, and lost, on attitude. Ireland had the edge of a team at the end of its tether having had their backsides booted from Dingle to Donegal in recent times. Instead of being demoralized by a string of poor results, they railed against the doubt. From the first minute they crowded the midfield and lived in Scotland’s face. The visitors struggled and then collapsed. It was captivatingly awesome.

Captain Andy Robertson was scathing in his assessment of Scotland's shortcomings
Captain Andy Robertson was scathing in his assessment of Scotland’s shortcomings

Scottish players – Andy Robertson, Callum McGregor, Gilmour – ballooning the ball into the stand instead of finding a team-mate. Scottish players backing out of tackles and missing second balls. Scottish players not working anything like as hard as their opposite numbers. Scottish players watching goal after goal going in on the back of their wretched inability to keep hold of possession in the first instance and then defending absentmindedly in the second.

Everybody was miles off it. Everybody. John McGinn gave away possession seven times in the opening half an hour and also missed two decent chances. McGinn is a talisman of this team, a hero immortalized in song, but he’s way off form. He’s Scotland main hope of a goal, but the reality is that he’s on a run of one goal in 29 matches for club and country.

Scotland’s team is full of players at big clubs but there’s a soft underbelly there, a lack of the kind of aggression that Ireland showed.

Che Adams is another in a barren spell. Scotland’s main striker hasn’t scored in 16 games. He was never likely to score in Dublin. With passes going everywhere bar where they were supposed to, he never stood a chance.

This team has been well served by goals from defenders in recent times, but when the defenders aren’t scoring what have Scotland got? Right now, not a lot.

Scotland were outplayed and outfought. We thought they’d progressed beyond this point, but no. Here they were again, every bit as lost as they were in some of the dog days of before. This was Kazakhstan stuff. Had Ireland won by four or even five it would have been a fairer reflection of their total dominance.

Scotland’s confusion on the pitch for 90 miserable minutes carried on in the time after the final whistle. They made a shape to go to their fans but then did a swift about-turn when they saw the anger and heard the boos. They beat a retreat to their dressing room and what a hopeless place that must have been. When Robertson spoke in the aftermath he did so with a conviction and an accuracy that was sadly lacking in his game.

It was damning stuff. “Everyone of us lost our individual battles,” he said. “To play in a Scotland shirt should be an honor and we should fight for it and tonight we didn’t do it.” It was pretty obvious to see, but how telling that Robertson admitted to it. What an indication.

He had more to say. “They won every second ball, they won every challenge,” he said of Ireland. Yet more devastating criticism of his own team. “We started playing long balls, which we didn’t work on, to a striker that was isolated, which is completely the wrong thing to do.” He remarked that the Scotland fans were right to boo the players off the pitch. And there was this: “Their fans lifted them and I don’t know if we hid away from that…”

That’s the Scotland captain effectively admitting that Ireland wanted it more, that his players panicked and ignored instructions and that the crowd, perhaps, made some Scotland players go into hiding. Jaw-dropping.

The Tartan Army were not impressed
The Tartan Army made their displeasure known, booing the Scotland team off the park

Clarke said the problems weren’t about selection or shape, but about “something else”. He didn’t know, or wasn’t saying, what the “something else” was.

Any team can have a bad day at the office, but that’s two in three games now – one ended Scotland’s hopes of making the World Cup (albeit against a good Ukraine team) and another has done serious damage to them taking the Nations League route to the play-offs for a place at Euro 2024. This has been a deeply damaging few weeks. Clarke is toiling badly now.

There’s one more game to go, a 15th in the last 12 months. Into the heat of Yerevan they go on Tuesday, Yerevan being the hothouse where Ireland lost 1-0 just over a week ago.

Robertson could do with showing the kind of leadership in deed rather than word. McGinn, capable of excellence and awfulness, needs to find himself. At the moment, he doesn’t deserve a place in the team. You could say the same about Robertson, as brutal as that may sound. McGregor was infected by all of this as well on Saturday. It was his 62nd game of the season.

If Clarke made five or six changes for Yerevan you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. As a creature of habit, he’ll most probably wield a scalpel rather than an axe.

This Scotland squad needs the most honesty session after this. It’s time to stop blowing smoke and get real. Their progress has halted and they’re going backwards. Embarrassingly so on Saturday.

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