Scotland with 'work to do' in Nations League despite Armenia boost

‘The realistic fans know what we’re trying to do’

Even the most convincing win against Armenia would never have made up for Scotland missing out on the World Cup, or the dismal performance in Dublin.

Nevertheless a victory was crucial for the country’s Nations League ambitions, and a 4-1 win in Yerevan meant Scotland did finish the international window with a flourish, albeit playing against 10 men for just over half of the match.

While head coach Steve Clarke was keen to stress the positives, he was also clear about his views on the last fortnight.

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“Two wins against Armenia are not going to make this international camp a good camp – because it wasn’t,” he admitted.

“We failed in our primary objective which was to get to a World Cup. And we had a really bad performance in Dublin which put us on the back foot. It was nice to bounce back tonight – but work to do.”

Boost for forwards

The most positive aspect of the performance was the fact that – after five games in 2022 without a forward scoring – all three of Scotland’s most advanced players found the net.

Che Adams scored his first goal for club or country since February and John McGinn also netted after a tough week. But the standout performer, with two goals and an assist, was Stuart Armstrong.

“Our forward players can score goals,” Clarke quipped in his post-match press conference after some recent criticism.

Armstrong grabbed the equaliser and, almost immediately after Armenia were reduced to 10 men, arrowed in a fine second to give Scotland a crucial lead before the break.

The Southampton midfielder had more touches (nine) in the opposition box than any of his team-mates, had the most shots, completed 94% of his passes, and 90% of his passes in the final third.

“I think Stuart Armstrong can feel aggrieved he’s not had as much game time or as many caps as his play deserves,” former Scotland striker Kenny Miller said on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound.

“I was really happy to see him in the team because he does bring a goal threat, a creative edge, energy, and he’s an intelligent footballer. He might have played himself into that second 10 position now, competing with guys like Ryan Christie and David Turnbull as well.”

Defensive concerns linger

While Clarke dismissed a question about Scotland’s defensive display as “pretty negative”, the Scotland boss will surely be worried about the chances his team conceded in Yerevan.

While the result was a positive, the same frailties exposed against Ukraine and Ireland were on show in the first half, and even at times when the hosts were down to 10 men.

According to Opta, Armenia finished with an expected goals (xG) rating of 1.44 to Scotland’s 1.11, which means the home side created the higher quality chances but failed to take them while Scotland were clinical.

Long balls in particular caused havoc. For Armenia’s goal, Jack Hendry was caught up the pitch and Grant Hanley failed to cover adequately. A later scare saw Hendry play his man onside after failing to step into the line, before managing to scramble back and block.

Scott McTominay and Nathan Patterson were caught napping by the run of Khoren Bayramyan only to be saved by the offside flag after the midfielder converted. It was the same flaw that led to Troy Parrot’s second goal for Republic of Ireland on Saturday.

Having kept seven clean sheets in eight matches in the second half of 2021, Scotland have conceded 10 goals in five games in 2022, with just one shutout – at home to Armenia.

Centre-backs Liam Cooper, Scott McKenna and John Souttar were all unavailable, as were Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, and injuries and rotation mean it has been a different back three in each of Scotland’s last 10 matches.

Clarke stressed the impact of fatigue after a long season, but former Scotland defender Willie Miller believes the head coach needs to find some consistency in selection in order to restore the team’s stubbornness.

“The manager has to look at why we didn’t defend properly and rectify it, because that was a strong part of the team that has fallen apart in the last three games,” Miller said on Sportsound.

“I would like to see it settling down in a little bit so it is a familiar three. Scott McTominay is a fabulous player but for me when you’ve got the choice I don’t think he should be in the back three – he should be in midfield.

“The good thing is he [Clarke] has choices, but he needs to settle on who his back three is when everyone’s fit. They’ve proven in the past they can get a good run of shutouts, so let’s hope it can be fixed.”

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