Scotland are now in the box seats to reach the World Cup play-offs

JOHN McGARRY: A new dizzying standard has been set by Scotland… a feel-good factor has carried over from Euro 2020 and Steve Clarke’s side are now in the box seats to reach the World Cup play-offs

  • Scotland laid down significant marker in 1-0 win over Austria in Vienna
  • Victory leaves Steve Clarke’s side second in their World Cup qualifying group
  • Performance was one of the best in recent memory as Scotland set new heights
  • Maintaining these levels will give Scotland a clear path to World Cup play-offs

A statement performance you said? Well here it was. Written large in Dark Blue capital letters and nailed firmly to the board.

This was what we’ve waited for. On a par with the displays witnessed at Wembley and Belgrade but this time coming with a precious victory inside 90 minutes.

The 27th game of Steve Clarke’s tenure felt like a cup final but by the end of it the prize for Lyndon Dykes’ converted penalty and a heroic defensive display was a clear run towards the World Cup play-offs.

Andy Robertson applauds supporters following Scotland’s famous 1-0 victory in Austria

Lyndon Dykes’ first half penalty was enough to see off their group rivals in a pivotal clash

Remarkably, after the despondency of last week in Copenhagen, back-to-back wins against Moldova and Austria have put Scotland in the box seat to finish second in Group F.

If Israel can be seen off first at Hampden, the incentive to then beat the Faroe Islands then Moldova will be to render the final match with Denmark inconsequential. What a turnaround in fortunes.

Having just about shot par in the group to date, Scotland needed a big win here to change the narrative.

They earned it with belief, character and determination but also by showing bravery when it was needed. It’s one thing putting your body on the line when required but the real courage was seen in the football Clarke’s side played here.

Scotland defended when required but were excellent in possession throughout.

Dykes’ first half spot-kick was enough to claim all three points in the World Cup qualifier

It felt like a night when a new dizzying standard was set. If it can be maintained in the coming months, another playoff will assuredly beckon.

You could often have accused Clarke of being overly cautious in his selection but you could not argue with the intent here.

Shaping with a back-three, a midfield of Callum McGregor, Billy Gilmour and John McGinn was complimented with the width of Andy Robertson and Stephen O’Donnell.

In Dykes and Che Adams, the forward line had brawn and pace. It was all a question of opening the supply lines.

The empty seats inside the Ernst Happel Stadium was reflective of how much the astonishing 5-2 loss in Israel had sucked the belief out of the Austrian public.

Steve Clarke’s side are now in an excellent position to reach the World Cup play-offs

If their manager Franco Foda felt like a man under pressure ahead of this one, he hid it well, confidently predicting that his side would do what was required of them.

With David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic bounding out of the traps, it made for an uncomfortable opening for Clarke’s side with both star men going close.

Scotland were not here to play a game of rope a dope, though. With the contest wide opener, Dykes rose to meet McGinn’s cross but only found the keeper.

There was more than a grain of truth in Foda’s prediction that Scotland were partial to a long-ball. But with Dykes and Adams aggressively standing their ground and dragging the game up the park, Clarke wasn’t going to discourage it.

As a result of testing positive for Covid, O’Donnell hadn’t kicked a ball in anger since Motherwell played St Johnstone in August. Not that you’d have known it.

Che Adams (right) played a superb supporting role to Dykes in Scotland’s attack

The man who was asked to step into Nathan Patterson’s shoes was in perpetual motion up the right flank for as long as his legs held out, trying to nullify Alaba one minute, bounding forward to aid attacks the next. If his deliveries were too often a letdown, his energy and doggedness were extraordinary.

The same could be said of every man in Dark Blue as Austria came after them in the opening exchanges. Blocks were made, headers were won, fists were clenched. This was about as far removed from the no-show in Copenhagen as you could possibly imagine.

Arms folded behind his back as ever, Clarke cut a composed figure on the sidelines. Inside his heart must have been pounding.

It was frenetic and fiercely competitive. How McGinn warmed to the task of snapping at the ankles of those clad in red. The Aston Villa man gave his opponents not a moment’s peace.

Ahead of him Adams and Dykes, strained every sinew to get a toe or their head on the ball then used every fibre of their being to keep it. Austria were unsettled and showed their frustrations.

An organised and disciplined Scotland defence prevented Austria from creating chances

McGregor seemed to glide from middle to front all night. The Celtic man did well to get up from an appalling foul by Martin Hinteregger which might well have merited a red card but the defender’s fate was in the post.

Asked to take a second look at Hinteregger’s grapple with Adams, Bulgarian referee Georgi Kabakov spotted a tug and awarded a penalty which Dykes calmly smashed down the middle.

There was anxiety on the Scotland bench each time Austria managed to whip in a ball from wide. But if Craig Gordon or one of his defenders didn’t get the first contact on it, they invariable got the second.

The rear-guard action had a lot to do with tactical nous but their sheer desire played an equal part in the one-goal advantage being preserved.

Craig Gordon was assured in the Scotland goal to pluck out the crossing threat from Austria

The effort to keep the Austrians at bay was extraordinary and energy-sapping.

You feared Clarke’s men might wilt the longer the night went on but their reserves of grit were seemingly endless. On nights such as these, you would not put a price on Gilmour’s ability to retain the ball.

We could and should have killed it long before the end but neither O’Donnell, McGinn or Adams could find a way past Daniel Bachmann.

It said much that Gordon’s point-blank save to deny Christoph Baumgartner late on was his first meaningful involvement of the night.

A never to be forgotten night in Vienna came through a mammoth collective effort. The feel good factor which washed over the country in the summer is in the air once again.

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