For all the sceptical sentiment about the Carling Nations Cup, at least it should supply a denouement about as exciting as possible for a tournament of this ilk.
The Republic of Ireland will host Scotland here on Sunday with the teams level on the maximum six points and the Irish goal difference three goals superior, meaning the Scots need to win to lift the cup. For 45 minutes last night Scottish hopes of ensuring such a climax looked slim; what followed hinted that they regard winning the competition as significant.
Wales took the lead before an impressive Scotland recovery, whose victory was fully merited at the final whistle. Wales fielded a youthful, makeshift team with their manager, Gary Speed, firing a broadside at the organisers later. He is angry that his team were forced to play on Wednesday and Friday of this week, giving them less rest than the other sides.
“We’ve been treated like the poor relations in this competition,” Speed said. “To play two games in three days is ridiculous. It affects the credibility of the tournament.”
What a surreal affair this was. Pre-match attendance hopes were not high, but it was still odd to see such vast expanses of empty seats for an international match. The official attendance of 6,036 looked on the high side; thank goodness those who attended Tuesday’s game between the Republic and Northern Ireland were handed free tickets for this match, or it could have slipped into unwanted record-breaking territory.
Craig Levein was better-placed than Speed. Scotland’s manager named a team which was arguably only two players – the unavailable Darren Fletcher and Alan Hutton – short of his strongest XI.
Wales were by far the neater in the opening half hour, without forcing the Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor into serious work. The first signs of Scottish intent arrived as a Steven Whittaker cross only narrowly evaded Kenny Miller and Ross McCormack. It proved a rare first-half glimpse of daylight for them.
Then Stephen Crainey failed to deal with a routine clearance from the Wales goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill, and Rob Earnshaw nipped in. Earnshaw, who has previous form for causing damage to Scotland, skipping by Scott Brown before flicking past McGregor. The Tartan Army, not known for grumpiness, jeered Scotland from the pitch at half-time.
Charlie Adam s latest demonstration of creativity played a part in lightening the mood of those fans. The Blackpool captain, destined for bigger things next season, threaded a delightful pass into the path of James Morrison 10 minutes after the re-start and the West Bromwich midfielder, hardly renowned for his prowess, finished smartly to mark his 25th birthday.
Scotland’s growing dominance was endorsed as Morrison and Miller combined and the latter shot home after the Albion man squared perfectly. Christophe Berra is even less of a goal threat than Morrison. Nonetheless the Wolves defender leapt at the back post to meet a Whittaker cross to score Scotland’s third.
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