Yesterday’s win at Celtic Park was easily Scotland’s most important one during the tenure of manager Gordon Strachan. Not only did it move Scotland into a tie on points for second place in Group D for EURO 2016, though Scotland are fourth place due to goal differential, it was easily the best match Scotland have played under Strachan. It was a total team effort from back to front and the football was, dare I say it, “fluid?”
Here are my player ratings using a “10” is best, “1” is worst scale:
Charlie Mulgrew – 9
Easily Mulgrew’s best performance for Scotland. Playing in his home park Mulgrew moved the ball accurately all over the park and, my, what a left foot he has! Mulgrew should probably be playing for a better club in a better league, but last night he showed he could step up to the big time without so much as blinking. Despite Maloney’s goal, Mulgrew was my MOTM.
Shaun Maloney – 9
When Maloney left Aston Villa (where his successes were…sporadic) in 2008 to return to Celtic I honestly thought both his club and country careers were going into irreversible decline. I was wrong. At the age of 31 Maloney is enjoying an international renaissance the likes of which few Scotland players ever have. His winning goal puts his name alongside those of Gemmil, McFadden, and others who have scored important- and beautiful- goals for their country.
Steven Naismith – 9
Naismith’s performance had everything but a goal to top it off. He has consistently been Scotland’s best player under Gordon Strachan, and more than that, he appears to be getting better with every match for his country. A ball winner, a nightmare for defenders with his unpredictability, his play made me think what Scotland could be with one, lethal, big striker to pair him with up front…
Andrew Robertson – 8
Here’s what you have to remember- even though the played like a seasoned international yesterday, he’s only 20! He was dangerous in the attack, providing quality service to the attacking players in the Scotland side, and more importantly, as a fullback, he absolute stifled the Irish attack at every turn. Robertson has moved from the fourth tier of Scottish football to the Premiership in England in only two years and there’s a reason for that- he’s good.
David Marshall – 7
Solid. Made the saves when he needed to and perhaps more importantly in this match he was in total command of his area despite the persistent presence of a big, rough Irish frontline. Craig Gordon may be back in the Scotland fold, but it’s going to take a bit of work to unseat Marshall in the net.
Grant Hanley – 7
I get panicky every time Hanley steamrolls an opposing player and happy each time he gets away with it. He’s going to get plenty of yellow cards (and a few reds!) as he matures as a player, but I think you have to accept that because he is Scotland’s most intimidating presence since Colin “Braveheart” Hendry and he dominated the area in front of the Scotland goal- even after getting a yellow card in only the 12th minute of the match.
Scott Brown – 7
Brown is not my favorite player- as I may have noted on several hundred occasions- but on a night like last night with the intensity ratcheted up to “11,” he’s was just the kind of player Scotland needed- doing the dirty work, not losing his head when things got physical, and providing as reliable link between the backbone and the attackers. A completely “professional” performance from the Celtic man.
Ikechi Anya – 7
A lot of his work went unrewarded, but his threat on the wing forced Ireland to dedicate Seamus Coleman to covering him and that effectively took Coleman out of the match- which is saying something as he is one of the best fullbacks in the Premiership when it comes to bringing the ball forward into attack. Also, Anya needs to bring back the Afro!
Steven Whittaker – 6
Played well individually in the defense, but it was clear that he was out of position and he was often at a loss as to what to do with the ball when he got it.
Russell Martin – 6
Martin’s score is based largely on the fact that he was almost invisible during the match- and that’s generally a good thing for a defensive player. He might not have “added” a lot to the Scotland effort, but he handled everything that Ireland brought his way.
Steven Fletcher – 6
Fletcher didn’t manage to find the net (again) in an injury-abbreviated appearance, but he did move the ball around nicely with Naismith, Anya, and company in the Ireland half and was not intimidated at all by the physical Irish defending…which led to his injury.
Chris Martin – 5
Replaced the injured Fletcher for the last 35 minutes of the match, but had little impact.
Darin Fletcher – NA
Made brief cameos at the end of the match, but did little of note.
Scotland’s next qualification match will be on March 29, 2015 at Hampden Park in Glasgow against Gibraltar- and I will be there!