Lithuania 0-3 Scotland: ‘Cigar time’ for Scots in Vilnius
After half an hour’s play at Lithuania’s LFF Stadium you knew that this was going to be one of those rare Scotland nights when the smelling salts would not be required.
There would be no chasing the game like mad dogs in a meat house, no frenzied search for a late goal to avert a horror show, no metaphorical defibrillator needed like those games at Hampden against Lithuania,Slovenia and England where everybody left the stadium feeling like they’d spent 90 minutes on fast spin in a tumble dryer.
Save for an early tremor brought on by a wayward James McArthur pass and an easy chance coughed up Arvydas Novikovas, this was cigar time for Scotland. Two goals to the good after 30 minutes? Three goals ahead after 72 minutes? It could have been four, five or six out there. In Vilnius, Scotland finally practised the art of the ruthless kill.
In his post-match press conference, Gordon Strachan must have used the word ‘energy’ at least half a dozen times – and it was an appropriate word. Scotland had energy in Andy Robertson on one side and Kieran Tierney on the other. They had it in Stuart Armstrong and Matt Phillips. They had it in Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths.
As they motored on to victory the thought continually struck about where this form was earlier in the group, where was this maturity? Scotland’s football was good on Friday but it was their attitude that stood out. From the first minute they got on the front foot, took control and carried themselves like men who knew they were going to win as opposed to sitting back, fretfully, and waiting to draw or lose, as they have done too often.
Where was this performance before? We might as well ask where were these players? From the dreadful 1-1 draw against Lithuania in October, Robertson was the only survivor. Ten changes in 11 months. Brown was in retirement back then. Tierney was an unused substitute. Armstrong hadn’t yet started to light up Celtic’s team. Griffiths wasn’t yet trusted.
Griffiths had scored 48 goals in 63 games leading up to the Lithuania tie in Glasgow, but only appeared for the last 19 minutes of that match. It might seem churlish to hark back to that game after just watching an altogether better version of it on Friday, but the Octoberfest of disappointment is still hugely relevant. It still hangs in the air above Gordon Strachan’s head.