HT:- 1-0

FT:- 2-2 (Miller 44, Fletcher 82; Plasil 78, Kadlec  90 (pen))

Ref:- Kevin Blom

Scotland:- McGregor, Gary Caldwell, Hutton, Berra, Bardsley (Danny Wilson 75), Darren Fletcher (c), Scott Brown, James Morrison, Charlie Adam (Cowie 79), Kenny Miller, Steven Naismith (Barry Robson 86). Subs Not Used: Gilks, Bannan, Goodwillie, James Forrest

Bookings:- Scott Brown (17, Foul), Kenny Miller (49, Foul), Danny Wilson (89, Foul), Berra (91, Simulation)

Czech Republic:- Lastuvko, Hubschman, Sivok, Hubnik, Kadlec, Jiracek (Pekhart 77), Rosicky (c), Plasil, Rajnoch, Petrzela (Rezek 55), Baros (Vacek 91). Subs Not Used: Drobny, Pospech, Pudil, Lafata

Bookings:- Jiracek (23, Foul), Plasil (58, Dissent), Rezek (61, Foul),  Baros (91, Foul), Pekhart (93, Simulation)

An inconsistent refereeing display from the Dutchman Kevin Blom, who recently refereed the first leg of Arsenal’s Champions’ League Qualifier with Udinese, should not paper over an unduly cautious and relatively anaemic display from a Scotland side that knew they really had to win here to stand any chance of qualifying for Euro 2012.

Craig Levein will surely feel aggrieved at the ‘dubious’ penalty decisions that went against his side in stoppage time at the end of the match, when first Wilson was penalised for leaving his foot in on a quick-tumbling Rezek and then Berra was denied a penalty in almost identical circumstances. However, I’m sure that when Levein sits back to analyse the performance he will feel rather fortunate to have escaped with a point from a game that could, and probably should, have been over long before Miller fired Scotland in front just before half-time.

With home advantage and an urgent need to reduce the points deficit on the Czech’s you would have expected that Scotland would come out strongly in the first-half. However for well over two-thirds of the opening period the Hampden home support were left sitting in nervous silence, as the Czech’s cut through the Scotland defence on numerous occasions, yet failed to find the breakthrough their attacking enterprise deserved. Amongst the most wasteful of the Czech Republic starting eleven was the highly experienced former Liverpool and Lyon striker Milan Baros.

As early as the fourth minute the debutant winger Petr Jiracek (who had an exceptional first half) managed to win the ball in the air out on the left, putting Baros away down the wing. Baros knocked the ball back inside to Jiracek who drove down the flank, before cutting a beautiful ball back to Baros in the centre of the penalty area. Inexplicably the Czech Republic’s second highest scorer of all-time (having scored more than twice as many goals as Scotland’s Kenny Miller) contrived to steam the ball clean over the bar, when it really would have been easier to score.

The lethargic Scottish midfield did not immediately awaken from their stupor, as might have been expected, instead they allowed Tomas Rosicky the chance to pump a free kick into the box, where Jan Rajnoch managed to get between Bardsley and Berra and screw a header inches wide of McGregor’s left post. The Scottish defence was looking all too static and there was a genuine sense that they could end up imploding under this early Czech barrage. I’ve never been a fan of Gary Caldwell, believing him to be a painfully slow centreback, lacking the positional sense and judgement to get him out of jail. Yet it was Caldwell’s link-up play with Adam and Fletcher that really provided Scotland with an outlet to relieve some of the pressure. Scotland were playing some neat passing football and were holding the ball relatively well in the middle of the park, but frequently lacked the final pass that could open things up for them.

Scott Brown managed to get himself his required booking after only 17 minutes for a dumb challenge somewhere around the centre-circle. Brown, like Caldwell, has always been overrated and his complete inability to think his way through a match, reduces his play to little more than a bit of high-tempo charging about. He is frequently a disaster waiting to happen. Thankfully Fletcher, Adam and Morrison were more controlled and economical with their energies and Scotland did produce some neat openings down the left, where Morrison and Bardsley were frequently marauding into the space vacated by Hubnik and Sivok.

Scotland had played almost 30 minutes before they got there first real sniff of goal, before which Berra had to block a beautiful Kadlec pass to Baros in the box and Caldwell had got away with his customary rick of a defensive pass thanks to his centreback partner’s quick thinking. It was Caldwell, charging forward with the ball, who managed to find Miller on the left side of the penalty area, only for the Cardiff striker to fail to get any power on his header. Moments after this half chance, the increasingly influential Morrison put Naismith clean through on goal only for the Rangers player to hit the ball harmlessly back to the inexperienced Czech goalkeeper (deputising for the injured Cech) with a truly appalling first touch.

Despite a really impressive first-half display from Gary Caldwell, who managed to stifle another good opportunity for Baros by showing him away from goal, the Scotland defence were frequently guilty of failing to clear the danger. Often the Czech Republic would break at pace on the counter, leaving the Scottish defence playing catch-up. Across the back line Scotland were failing to take adequate responsibility for ensuring their clearances didn’t drop back into dangerous areas. More often than not the Czech’s were able to get a second, more threatening, crack at goal due to this inability to play the ball out of from the back convincingly.

Amazingly, despite the Czech’s more obvious attacking threat, just before half-time Miller was put through by a bustling Fletcher run and coolly slotted into the bottom right corner with Scotland’s first shot on target. Lastuvka’s attempt at a save was pretty feeble, but it was still a priceless bit of poaching that Miller has become increasingly effective at producing for club and country.

Levein would have surely been ready to tear into his player’s at half-time, but the goal may have softened his rhetoric, as Scotland started the second-half in even more of a lacklustre and aimless fashion than they had the first. This time after just a minute Baros found himself once again in the right place in the box, only to fluff another gilt-edged opportunity. Unlike in the first-half this did seem to put some urgency into Scotland’s play and they spent the next ten minutes dominating possession and putting Naismith and Miller into dangerous positions in the box, from which they failed to capitalise. This moment of Scottish control was fleeting however and with the substitution of the ineffectual Milan Petrzela for the more robust and direct Jan Rezek, Czech coach Michal Bilek brought Baros a little deeper and pushed Hubnik and Hubschman a little further forward. By congesting the midfield in this manner, the Czech’s enjoyed their most dominant spell of the match, with Scotland seeming increasingly happy to sit back on their goal advantage.

Scotland’s inability to clear effectively had not improved and the likes of the wily Rosicky and aggressive Rezek were able to make the most of every second ball that dropped their way. On 65 minutes Hubnik, who had an very productive second half, should have scored the equaliser for the Czech’s, but saw his foot catch in the turf when he only needed to make the slightest of touches to knock Sivok’s headed pass into the back of the net.

Scotland were now reduced to fending off the Czech waves of pressure and foraging for the occasional counter-attacking opportunity. After Hubnik’s glorious chance McGregor managed to release the ball quickly to Morrison who delivered a delightful cross to Miller at the near-post, but this time Kenny was unable to get enough of a touch to divert the ball past the flailing Lastuvka. Up the other end Rosicky took a long-range shot, from about 25 yards out, which managed to career wide off an unfortunate Rezek, preventing an almost certain goal. With this kind of luck it seemed that just maybe the Scots could hold-out.

In the end the unrelenting pressing game of the Czech midfield, allied with Rezek’s highly effective battering ram centre-forward work, managed to create a ridiculously simple opening. Rezek broke wide of Hutton and delivered a teasing cross toward the near-post, where Nedved lookalike Jaroslav Plasil managed to steer the ball into the net with his chest. Embarrassingly the Scotland team, that had been complacently counting the clock down on a 1-0 lead till the equaliser, suddenly began to dominate the middle of the park once more, proving that if they had wanted to they had the wherewithal to compete with this weak Czech side.

Whereas in Scotland’s first goal Fletcher had been provider and Miller finisher, this time Miller exploited a terrible defensive error on the left-side by Rajnoch and broke into the box. Playing, what looked like an overhit pass across the penalty area, Miller actually picked out a lung-bursting run from the Scots captain, with Fletcher dispatching the ball into the bottom right corner emphatically. The roar around Hampden was suddenly deafening, with the home fans breaking into a gleeful rendition of Flower of Scotland. Yet once again the Scottish team took their eye-off-the-ball, with the Czech’s throwing everything at them for the last few minutes of the match.

Step forward the controversial Kevin Blom, who had already missed a Czech penalty shout in the first half, as well as a dodgy elbow by Naismith on Rezek in the second. Rezek could also count himself lucky for still being on the pitch after a horrible tackle on Adam a few minutes after the elbowing incident. Perhaps a combination of these elements were clouding the judgement of the Dutch official as Rezek hopped into the Scottish penalty area in the 89th minute, going to ground laughably quickly under a challenge from young substitute Wilson. To be fair Rezek at least waited for Wilson to make contact with his trailing foot before taking his tumble, and although it is clearly a soft penalty, it’s still a possible penalty. Kadlec came forward to brusquely slam the ball straight down the middle of McGregor’s goal, however this didn’t quite break Scottish hearts.

As with the first equaliser Scotland found a new lease of life and straight from the kick-off Hutton won a free-kick in a dangerous position. Caldwell’s delivery found his defensive partner Berra in space in the box, only for Hubnik to close in on the defender and Berra clearly choosing to go to ground. Levein and some of the Scots’ players appeared incensed as they were still disputing Rezek’s penalty, but although the two incidents were superficially similar, there certainly seemed less contact in the Berra case. At the end of the match Scotland were left feeling cheated, but can only really blame themselves for failing to consistently apply the pressure necessary to brush aside this far from world-beating Czech Republic team. Long before the drama of those closing moments, the Scots should have ensured they had more than a one-goal cushion. Their complacency when in front and their generally poor work at denying the Czech Republic the second ball were what ultimately cost them a vital victory at Hampden (which should put pay to their qualification hopes also).

My MOM:- Petr Jiracek – Even though he was substituted just before the Czech’s equalised and despite the game-changing substitute appearance of Jan Rezek, the Czech winger looked incisive and composed on the ball throughout. Considering this was his full International debut Jiracek ran the lines well and his link up play with Baros was one of the highlights of a hard-fought match.

And Another Thing… : – Scott Brown and Kenny Miller clearly fancied a longer lay-off before returning to club action at the weekend, as both of these senior players shirked responsibility by putting in stupid ‘nothing’ challenges in unimportant areas of the park. The bookings they duly received, ensure they won’t feature against the Lithuanian’s on Tuesday.

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