Shankland stakes claim and absences felt – what we learned from Scotland draw

By Sports Desk November 17, 2023

Scotland drew 2-2 with Georgia in Tbilisi in the penultimate match of their successful European Championship qualifying campaign.

Scott McTominay and substitute Lawrence Shankland both hit equalisers after Napoli attacker Khvicha Kvaratskhelia struck twice for the hosts.

Here are five things we learned from the encounter in the Boris Paichadze Stadium ahead of Scotland’s final Group A game against Norway on Sunday.

Substitutes are key again

Kenny McLean scored a late winner off the bench in Oslo in June and the substitute made a more sustained if less spectacular impact on Thursday night. The Norwich midfielder set up McTominay to level and generally helped improve Scotland’s possession after a slack first half with fellow half-time replacement Lewis Ferguson also contributing. Shankland then headed home in stoppage time from fellow sub Stuart Armstrong’s cross with Anthony Ralston also showing up well in a brief cameo. Manager Steve Clarke has not always been quick to make changes but it appears that the bench is becoming more and more important to Scotland in the five-subs era.

Shankland stakes his claim

The Hearts striker dropped out of the squad last month but earned a late call-up on the back of five goals in his last five club games when Che Adams pulled out. The 28-year-old seized his chance when he rose well to head home. “We needed a goal and you know Lawrence has always got a chance of getting a goal,” said Clarke as he explained why he had used him. Scotland will undoubtedly need a goal at some stage in Germany next summer and an in-form Shankland is arguably the most natural goalscorer Scotland have.

Pot two still in reach

Spain’s late goal in Seville last month wiped out Scotland’s head-to-head advantage and any realistic chance of Clarke’s side topping the group. Scotland would need to beat Norway on Sunday while Georgia win in Spain for that to happen. There is a better chance of Scotland finishing as the best runners-up and sealing a place in pot two for next month’s draw. That looks likely to be Austria, assuming Belgium beat Azerbaijan, but a two-goal win or a high-scoring one-goal victory could put the Scots among the second seeds. However, that could theoretically hand Scotland a tougher draw given the likes of Netherlands, Denmark, Italy or Ukraine are headed for pot three.

Zander Clark shows his mettle

The Hearts goalkeeper was beaten at his near post for Kvaratskhelia’s opener but there were bigger factors in the lead-up to the goal which left the former St Johnstone man exposed on his competitive debut. Clark went on to make three assured saves including one in the dying seconds.

Back four experiment has mixed success

With Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson and Aaron Hickey joining long-term absentee Grant Hanley on the sidelines in recent weeks, Clarke went with a back four featuring Nathan Patterson, Ryan Porteous, Scott McKenna and Greg Taylor. Scotland seemed more open as a result, especially in the first half, although they dominated the final half hour. Tierney’s return to fitness looks key to Scotland’s Euro 2024 prospects given his influence in the back three.

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