Where would Scotland be without John McGinn? It is a question that Steve Clarke must hope he will never have to answer after the Aston Villa midfielder scored twice and Che Adams registered his first international goal to help them ease past the Faroe Islands.
Kieran Tierney also stood out with an outstanding performance that included three assists, although it was McGinn’s ninth and 10th goals for his country that provided the crucial spark on an occasion that briefly threatened to be a return to the bad old days. Yet after Austria’s 4-0 thrashing at home to leaders Denmark, Scotland are up to second in Group F and can see a route to reaching the finals for the first time since 1998.
Clarke had promised that his side would go on the attack after their stuttering start in the draws against Austria and Israel. He made three changes from the team that started in Tel Aviv last Sunday. Lyndon Dykes returned to partner Che Adams in attack, Kenny McLean was brought into midfield, while Craig Gordon was selected in goal instead of David Marshall in a move the manager insisted had been planned rather than a reflection of Marshall’s performance against Israel.
Having drawn against the Faroe Islands in successive European Championship qualifiers back in 1999 and 2002, Scotland were well aware that this would not necessarily be a stroll in the park against opponents ranked 107th in the world. Hakan Ericson’s side were promoted from their Nations League group last year and came into this match having scored in nine of their last 10 matches, including the first goal in their 3-1 defeat to Austria in Vienna.
A flowing move in the seventh minute that began with Scott McTominay’s raking pass from his own half and ended with McGinn’s precise finish after he was picked out by Tierney certainly should have settled a few home nerves. Yet Scotland were often guilty of trying one too many passes around their opponents’ penalty area in the first half and they struggled to create another decent chance, with Gordon having to produce a brilliant save to deny Hendriksson Olsen’s long-distance effort at the other end.
A McTominay header that drifted just wide of the far post from Ryan Fraser’s free-kick was the closest they came to doubling their lead before the break despite enjoying more than 70% of possession, while the referee waved away Adams’ appeals for a penalty after clashing with Viljormur Davidsen.
Disaster almost struck inside 60 seconds of the restart when Gordon somehow fumbled a simple cross and the Hearts veteran was relieved to be able to grab the ball at the second attempt. But with Tierney operating as an auxiliary left-back as Scotland pressed forward, once again it was McGinn who was in the right place to head in the Arsenal defender’s excellent cross.
There was even better to come when Adams – taking aim from outside the area having turned his marker brilliantly – rolled his studs over the ball before unleashing an unstoppable drive into the net. When Fraser scored in his third successive international appearance from Andy Robertson’s cross with 20 minutes to play, it looked like this could become a rout.
Thankfully for the Faroe Islands, that didn’t materialise, and Gordon had to be alert late on to keep his clean sheet.