For more than a quarter of this fixture, a placing in Scotland’s congested international hall of shame beckoned. The Czech Republic, having cobbled an entire team together at 48 hours’ notice after Covid-related issues, held a well-deserved advantage in Olomouc and the visitors were toiling badly. There was cause for the Czechs to wonder why on earth, in an apparent weekend panic, they tried to have the tie postponed.
A Lyndon Dykes goal, his first for Scotland, on his second appearance, preceded Ryan Christie earning his team respectability from the penalty spot. Yet there should not be, and will not be, any whooping and hollering after unconvincing success against a squad where only two players had sampled international football before.
After two matches and the Nations League’s resumption, there remain legitimate doubts about the Scots’ readiness for a Euro 2021 play-off against Israel in early October. Steve Clarke made five changes to his starting side following the draw against Israel on Friday but Scotland still lacked fluency and looked incredibly generous in defence. Alarm bells must ring.
Clarke does not care much for focus on systems but successive tries at a three-man backline cannot be considered as positive. A glorified Czech league select had Clarke fretting right until full-time, courtesy of a series of set pieces that had his side in occasional panic. The Czech players are due immense credit for their attitude, as they made a mockery of their heavy underdog status.
“It would have been a fairytale night for them,” Clarke told Sky Sports after the match. “We were always on a hiding to nothing … everyone said we had to come here and get the win and we got it.
“I knew when it all unfolded over the weekend that it was going to be a difficult game for us,” Clarke added. “The Czech Republic were going to play the game of their lives. For us, it was always going to be a difficult night but we got the win. When everybody puts you under so much pressure to get the win then that’s all you have to do.”
Craig Levein will be glad there is another, curious reference point for a Scotland trip to the Czech Republic. A decade has passed since he deployed a 4-6-0 formation for a game in Prague but Scottish fans and commentators have neither forgiven or forgotten. Every mention of that set-up triggers all manner of furious responses.
There was Tartan Army anger, again, within 11 minutes of this match. A woeful Scotland opening was punished by Jakub Pesek, a 27-year-old journeyman who marked his international debut in memorable fashion. Pesek smartly bent his run behind Scott McTominay, collected a pass from Stanislav Tecl and flicked past the advancing David Marshall.
Scotland now donned red faces alongside light blue shirts. As Marshall scrambled to claw away a long-range effort from Pesek, Clarke had cause to be grateful for the absence of a travelling support.
It took 24 minutes for the visitors to produce something vaguely resembling a coherent attack, Liam Palmer and Christie firing in consecutive crosses that had the defence flapping.
Palmer’s next ball, low and inviting from the right flank, was the cue Dykes needed to pounce for his maiden international goal. One of many baffling aspects of the opening period related to Scotland’s passiveness after Dykes hauled them back into proceedings.
Officialdom was soon to lend them a helping hand, as if they were worthy of another one. Tomas Malinsky clearly had a hold of the marauding Andy Robertson’s shirt, with the Liverpool full-back smart enough to wait until he was inside the penalty area before taking a tumble. The offence appeared to take place in free-kick territory. Christie, for the second time in two games, strode home to score, low to Ales Mandous’s left. Scotland’s tempered celebrations told their own story.
Marek Havlik’s shaving of the post with a free-kick emphasised the makeshift hosts were not of mind to accept their fate. Marshall saved brilliantly from Pesek, with Tecl stumbling over the ball when afforded glaring opportunity on the rebound.
Callum Paterson, on in place of the injured Dykes, should have settled Scottish nerves when sent through on goal but instead shanked his effort wide.
Even in victory, this rather summed up Scotland’s night. Marshall was Clarke’s best player. Quite what a full-strength Czech team would have done to Scotland is anyone’s guess.