Gordon Smith: Don’t let excitement of Scotland v England disguise the facts

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan looks dejected at full time (SNS Group)
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan looks dejected at full time (SNS Group)

PERSPECTIVE, they say, is everything.

And in the rush to praise Gordon Strachan in the wake of Scotland’s exciting 2-2 draw against England, it may have been lost.

Although the Dark Blues probably didn’t deserve to win, we came very close to doing so.

England’s dramatic, late equaliser was down to a series of defensive blunders on our part. We gave the ball away, then didn’t close down the cross or mark the scorer, Harry Kane.

An extreme example it might have been, but it was no great surprise. An inability to defend properly has been endemic in our international football over the last two years.

That didn’t stop the draw being hailed a moral victory, one for which the national coach took much of the credit.

Graeme Souness said he should be given a new contract and Alan McRae, the SFA president, described him as one of our finest managers of recent times.

While it is good to have positivity, the facts should not be ignored.

Scotland failed to qualify for Euro 2016, having finished fourth in a group from which the top three qualified. That was a failure.

With four games of the 2018 World Cup campaign remaining, we sit fourth in a group from which only one qualifies automatically, with the best runners-up going into a play-off.

That’s far from ideal.

Yes, there is the potential to turn things round in the remaining fixtures and finish in that play-off position.

Win our home games against Malta (which shouldn’t be a problem) and Slovakia, plus one of the away fixtures in Lithuania and Slovakia, and we should finish second.

It is a tough goal but an achievable one.

Whether it is enough to clinch one of the eight play-off places for best runners-up is another question.

But in these competitions, you tend to get what you deserve.

So we should not forget the home draw with Lithuania, the 3-0 drubbing in Slovakia and the same level of defeat at Wembley.

Four points have followed since, which does suggest improvement.

If that can continue, it would engender confidence that we could go into the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a reasonable expectation of actually making it through to a major Finals.

There has been progress. It is there to see.

Andrew Robertson, Stuart Armstrong and, particularly, Kieran Tierney are excellent young players who have been brought into the side and look set to make big contributions for years to come.

Yes, Armstrong made a mistake at England’s equaliser last Saturday, but those things happen. His challenge is to put it behind him.

Tierney was outstanding against England. He looks one of the brightest talents we have seen in years.

Leigh Griffiths showed outstanding technical ability under considerable pressure with his two free-kicks.

Largely overlooked by his international manager when he was in the middle of his 40-goal season with Celtic in 2015-16, he must now be considered our No. 1 striker ahead of the likes of Steven Fletcher and Chris Martin.

I have to say, too, I was pleased Gordon Strachan went with a back five. It was an intelligent tactic to use against the threats posed by the visitors.

But, again in terms of keeping things in perspective, it should be stated that England are not that good.

In midweek, they lost to a French team which played for most of the second half with 10 men.

I backed Gordon Strachan when the SFA gave him his last deal.

I may well do so again at the end of his current contract.

Before I do so, though, Scotland’s results will have to justify it.

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