Scotland 3 Ukraine 0: John McGinn and Lyndon Dykes strike as Steve Clarke’s men go top of Nations League group

    THIS was one of those ‘if only’ nights for Scotland.

    Just not the one we all feared with 71 minutes on the clock.

    McGinn fired in the opener at Hampden

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    McGinn fired in the opener at HampdenCredit: Reuters
    Dykes headed in a double after coming off the bench

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    Dykes headed in a double after coming off the benchCredit: PA

    No, this late and dramatic victory for Steve Clarke’s side at Hampden had the Tartan Army wishing ‘if only… they were all like this.’

    Nil-nil wouldn’t have been the worst result in this must-not-lose Nations League clash with Ukraine.

    But three sensational goals inside 16 pulsating minutes got three crucial points.

    Super John McGinn broke the deadlock in 71 minutes before substitute Lyndon Dykes grabbed a late, late double to seal a stunning and fully deserved victory.

    There was so much to enjoy about this Scotland performance on a night when the manager went with a fairly unexpected line-up and formation.

    You just know his critics would have been shaking their heads disapprovingly when they saw Clarke had ditched his usual defensive back-three for a new-look back-four.

    Naysayers asking why he’d turned his back on his go-to system after all these years. Especially in a game of such huge importance.

    Yet the main reason Clarke has favoured that formation is to accommodate two of his squad’s big hitters, Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson.

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    And with his skipper ruled out through injury there was no real need to stick with it.

    Scotland also finished the last gut-wrenching World Cup play-off game with Ukraine with a back-four – after being overrun in midfield initially – so it made perfect sense for Clarke to revert back to it.

    Six of the team that played that fateful night didn’t make this starting line-up for one reason or another.

    But then Ukraine looked different too with Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko absence a major plus for Scotland given how much he dominated that last clash back in June.

    The Tartan Army just wanted an overall better performance this time and not to go home wondering what might have been.

    Of course, getting one wasn’t necessarily going to mean we wouldn’t get the other.

    Before kick-off there were the expected boos and jeers from the stands during the minute’s applause for the Queen from those who find it impossible to sit or stand quietly for 60 seconds.

    But the way Clarke’s team started the game had the masses on their feet and making the right sort of noise.

    Scotland were terrific from the off.

    There was a real purpose to the way they pressed Ukraine with stand-in captain McGinn leading off the front.

    But it was one half-chance after another. Near misses rather than blatant ones.

    Ryan Christie was superb all night and kept getting himself into little pockets of space.

    Nathan Patterson was initially a major threat down the right flank too and looking in the mood to continue his outstanding club form for Everton.

    The former Rangers kid almost had a chance to score after 15 minutes before being crowded out inside the box. Seconds later he delivered a cross which was glanced just wide by McGinn.

    It was all looking so promising for him and Scotland. Yet with 23 minutes on the clock disaster struck.

    Stuart Armstrong smashed a shot the Ukraine keeper saved and when Christie failed to score with the rebound Ukraine moved to break forward.

    Patterson showed his diligent side by chasing back Ruslan Malinovskyi, only to fall awkwardly when he made his challenge.

    Right away he knew he’d tweaked something, raising his arm in the air to signal immediately to the bench.

    And that was his night over.

    There was classy embrace form Ukraine boss Oleksandr Petrakov as Patterson went up the tunnel. 

    Clarke applauds his team after third goal

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    Clarke applauds his team after third goalCredit: Willie Vass

    But Clarke must have wondered there and then if he was going to get any luck whatsoever against Ukraine.

    The incident deflated the entire home support with a hush around Hampden for a good ten minutes after Patterson went off.

    There was no blame attacked to the Ukraine midfielder for the incident. But just seconds before the break there was a flashpoint which had the Scotland supporters furious.

    Striker Che Adams tried to burst through the middle but was completely taken out by defender Valeriy Bondar with a raised arm challenge and deliberate collision to prevent him from running through.

    Italian referee Maurizio Mariani reached for his yellow card, but there was definitely an argument that it could have been worthy of another look on VAR. But that didn’t happen.

    Every time Bondar touched the ball in the second half he got booed by the home fans. 

    Ukraine’s physicality was actually one of the notable aspects of the first-half. 

    No6 Taras Stepanenko went into the ref’s book for a late tackle on McGinn and was fortunate to escape another caution for a similar foul before the break. 

    His manager clearly realised how luck he’d been because he subbed the Shakhtar Donetsk star at the break.

    But Scotland didn’t let up.

    Even after good opportunities came and went they didn’t let their heads drop.

    Adams had a double chance to score in 63 minutes but hit the crossbar with his first header before the Ukraine keeper used to his legs to stop his second.

    Seconds later Armstrong had his manager holding his head in his hands.

    But it was coming. The goal was on its way. And in 71 minutes it arrived.

    McGinn received a ball on the edge of the Ukraine box and held off that man Bondar.

    With brilliant accuracy the Aston Villa star then hit the net with a sensational shot across the keeper.

    The fear was that Ukraine still had time to nick an equaliser. 

    But Clarke’s men had other ideas.

    A corner from sub Ryan Fraser picked out Dykes and his header found the same corner McGinn did moments earlier to make it 2-0 with 79 minutes on the clock.

    Eight minutes later another delivery from the Newcastle man saw Dykes out jump his marker to grab his second.

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