‘Steely Scotland still standing after coming out swinging’

  • 2 hours ago

Two minutes into this nerve-jangling, palpitation-inducing, fingernail-biting night in Cologne, Scotland won a corner, their first of the tournament.

To supporters in full possession of their senses – ie pretty much every set of fans at this tournament bar the wonderful mavericks in the Tartan Army – this wouldn’t have been much of a big deal.

To the Scots, it was a cause for mass celebration. They went berserk.

The decibel level rose from mere ear-splitting to near ear-drum-busting. A corner! It was like their every pent-up frustration following last Friday’s footballing disaster came roaring out.

The corner amounted to nothing, but two minutes later they had another. More chaos, more delirium. Mark it down, Opta! Mark it down.

It turned out that the happy chaos down at the cathedral from early morning on Wednesday was like a gathering of Trappist monks compared to the bedlam that followed at Cologne Stadium.

A riot of a football match broke out and at the end of it Scotland were down one more defender in the shape of the injured Kieran Tierney but still, mercifully, in this tournament.

They got one point. It could have been none and it could have been three.

Grant Hanley hit a post. Manuel Akanji made a world-class intervention to deny Scott McTominay.

Switzerland will talk about Dan Ndoye’s one-on-one with Angus Gunn and their goals that were ruled offside, but which were tight.

A draw was fair. Both teams turned up. Both teams stood toe-to-toe and traded blows. It was pulsating.

Scotland have two goals now, both of them knocked in by kindly opponents, but they’re still there.

No Aaron Hickey, no Nathan Patterson, no Ryan Porteous and now no Tierney either. They’re struggling for numbers.

The sight of Tierney pulling up and being taken off was grim. It was just about the only moment in the entire night they fell a bit silent, with emphasis on the ‘bit’.

‘Scotland find themselves after Munich debacle’

In the wake of the Munich debacle, Scotland found themselves.

Let’s not go down the road of a moral victory. A dead end, that. But let’s give them praise because they have had the lousiest of weeks and they came out fighting.

They were favourites to lose, but they took the lead when McTominay headed away a Switzerland short corner then then took off in pursuit of the ball-carrier, Andy Robertson.

Yes, his eventual shot went in off Fabian Schar, but the briskness and intensity of Scotland’s counter was electrifying. It offered hope.

Billy Gilmour came into the team and what a difference he made. His personality, his hunger for the ball, his calmness amid the malestrom stood out like a beacon.

He had a presence and a strut. The quality of his direct opponent Granit Xhaka, and the pressure of the occasion, a must-not-lose, only seemed to make it more enjoyable for him.

Scotland didn’t hit the levels of their run of victories from March to September last year, but they showed signs of getting back there. Their pressing was brave and relentless, their work-rate through the roof.

The tendency for self-harm was there, too, in the guise of a loose pass, given away in a moment of stress by Anthony Ralston and seized upon by Xherdan Shaqiri. His curling, first-time finish was outrageous.

Ralston turned away. Gunn hopped up and down in frustration. Others just bowed their heads. What none of them did was allow it to fry their collective brain.

There were plenty of Swiss fans here, too, and they also made a hell of a racket.

When they piped-up, Scotland’s fans responded. There was a mighty contest on the pitch and also in the stands.

There was noise and colour and chances. It would have been cruel had either team lost, especially Scotland because it could well have cost them a shot at staying in the tournament.

Tierney’s departure was a horrible moment, a psychological blow at a time when Switzerland’s menace was a gathering storm.

Scotland qualified for this championship on the back of victories, of course, but also because of resilience, most notably the smash-and-grab in Norway.

We haven’t seen much of that over the last 10 games. They’ve been easy to score against and, too often, architects of their own downfall.

This was a steelier Scotland, especially when having to cope with the disappointment of losing one of their leaders to what looked like a bad injury.

They soaked it up and went again. Some of their best attacking moments came after Tierney exited, which was an illustration of their fight.

They needed to find something and they found it, and now belief will sustain them on the road to Stuttgart on Sunday to face a Hungary side who are pointless.

There are draws and there are draws. This one felt like a liberation from recent woes.

Its true relevance will only be known come Sunday, but as the quiet was restored around midnight in Cologne and Clarke and his players retreated to the sanctuary of their hotel, it must have felt good, oh so good to be still alive.

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