John McGinn had a moment of redemption in a victory over Ukraine

MARK WILSON: John McGinn had a moment of redemption as the Aston Villa midfielder’s 70th-minute opener helped Scotland surge to the top of Nations League group with a clinical victory over Ukraine

  • Scotland beat Ukraine 3-0 in their Nations League fixture on Wednesday evening
  • Steve Clarke’s Scotland side leapfrogged the visitors to take the lead in Group E 
  • Midfielder John McGinn opened the scoring in the second-half with a good finish
  • The Aston Villa midfielder was haunted by failing to convert in previous fixture
  • McGinn missed from close range in the World Cup play-off semi-final in June 
  • Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates

That miss in June shouldn’t weigh quite so heavily on John McGinn any more. Not after this. 

Just as it seemed Scotland might not gain just rewards, the midfielder’s personal moment of redemption helped crown a superb team performance — one utterly transformed from the limp loss to Ukraine in the World Cup play-off semi-final.

McGinn has admitted being haunted by his failure to convert from close range in the second half back then, when hope of Qatar drifted away. 

John McGinn had a moment of redemption as he helped Scotland seal a 3-0 win over Ukraine

If that was a moment of utter agony, here was one of sheer bliss. Fittingly, it transpired at the very same end of Hampden.

After Kieran Tierney’s challenge forced the ball in his direction, McGinn used the most effective backside in international football to roll away from Valeriy Bondar. This time, the finish was unerring.

Arrowed into the bottom corner of the net, it delivered a 70th minute breakthrough following a succession of thwarted opportunities. Stuart Armstrong had three alone amid the one-way traffic of the second period. 

The midfielder’s goal in the 70th minute helped Scotland go top of Nations League group

Steve Clarke faced plentiful criticism after the Ukrainians outclassed their hosts three months ago. 

The boss got everything right to send Scotland surging to the top of Nations League Group B1. It was one of the finest displays in his tenure. An exhibition of the talent within this squad.

A change of system, away from a back three, enabled Scotland to flourish. And Clarke’s substitutions were perfect.

Ryan Fraser and Lyndon Dykes were introduced to wrap up the match. They did so in style. Twice in the last ten minutes, Fraser delivered corners for Dykes to head home.

For the Newcastle winger, this was quite a cameo on his return to the international fold. For Dykes, it was an emphatic way to end a run of just one goal in 24 appearances with club and country.

Lyndon Dykes came off the bench to score two headers late on against Ukraine in the 3-0 win

Scotland have it in their hands now. A win over the Republic of Ireland on Saturday evening would leave just a draw being required against Ukraine in Poland next Tuesday. 

Play like this again and it is eminently possible to secure Nations League promotion and a back-up play-off option for Euro 2024. After all the dismay in June, optimism breathes again.

Ukraine left looking somewhat stunned. Speaking at the pre-match media conference, captain Andriy Yarmolenko had stressed the desire to win for their suffering compatriots remained every bit as strong. 

Once again, each visiting player emerged from the Hampden tunnel draped in their national flag.

Coach Oleksandr Petrakov was missing a few options through injury, most notably Oleksandr Zinchenko. Outstanding in the play-off win, the versatile Arsenal man is sidelined by a calf injury.

For Scotland, Tierney’s return in place of the injured Andy Robertson was one of six changes in personnel made by Clarke from the last meeting. The formation was altered, too.

Scott McTominay was deployed in midfield — rather than centre-back — as part of a 4-2-3-1 set-up. Clarke was clearly cognisant of the lessons from June.

A back four with Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna as its central components still had to show resilience against talented opponents.

Once the game got underway — after a minute’s applause for the late Queen that generated some booing within the Hampden crowd — Ukraine caused some early alarm when Artem Dovbyk was suddenly sprung into a one-on-one against Hendry. A past scorer on this ground, the Dnipro forward couldn’t capitalise.

A minute’s silence for the late Queen Elizabeth was held at Hampden Park ahead of kick-off

That little scare stirred Scotland. For most of the first half, Clarke’s side were on the front foot. Ukraine were unable to play around them as happened before.

Tierney’s presence was also significant. He spotted Che Adams peeling out to the left and slid a pass through that channel to met the striker’s run.

Adams angled his advance towards the area, with Bondar’s slip allowing a strike at goal. It was straight at goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin.

Ryan Christie then fizzed one through the six-yard box without finding a taker before a crisp pass into Nathan Patterson saw the ball nicked off the right back’s toes.

Scotland were stretching the home defence but couldn’t quite find the final moment of incision. A little more care and composure was needed.

When Patterson crossed from the right, a clever glancing header from John McGinn looped off target. McGinn would soon be the victim of a Taras Stepanenko challenge that delivered the first yellow card of the evening.

Armstrong then delivered for a Christie to head over at the near post as Trubin charged out to try and punch. Not very convincingly, it must be said.

A half-chance came Christie’s way when Trubin beat out an Armstrong snapshot but the Bournemouth man couldn’t quite sort out his feet.

Just as momentum was building, though, a cruel blow was dealt. Patterson went down in pain after attempting a tackle and eventually had to be stretchered from the pitch. 

Given how well he has been playing after making a breakthrough at Everton, it can only be hoped the damage is not serious.

Another English Premier League talent in Aaron Hickey took over at right-back but the disruption — and concern for a colleague — seemed to stall Scotland a little.

Ukraine threatened sporadically, primarily through the lightening pace of Mykhaylo Mudryk. But they could easily have been reduced to ten men just before the break.

As Adams sought to surge through, he was cleaned out by an outrageous body check from Bondar. 

The defender raised an elbow into the bargain, but was only shown a yellow card by Italian referee Maurizio Mariani. Scotland wanted to see a different colour.

Not surprisingly, Adams required a couple of minutes of treatment. Thankfully, he was able to continue.

Bondar was roundly booed every time he touched the ball as the second period got underway. By then, Petrakov had decided not to risk a second booking for the aggressive Stepanenko, bringing on Serhiy Sydorchuk as his midfield replacement.

Hendry made a terrific challenge on Dovbyk before an offside flag was belatedly raised but it was Scotland who took control Tierney nicked possession from Oleksandr Karavaev to set up Armstrong for a shot directly at Trubin. The midfielder’s big opportunity arrived soon after.

McTominay protected the ball before feeding Armstrong with a delightful back-heel. As the goal beckoned, the former Celtic man lost his cool to blaze over from 10 yards out.

McGinn will be pleased after missing a chance in their World Cup play-off tie against Ukraine

It felt like it might be a big moment. But Scotland pressed again. Their domination increased.

McGinn crossed for Adams to head against the bar. Moments later, the same combination led to the Southampton striker’s downward nod being denied by Trubin.

When Adams then picked out Armstrong for a header wide from a great position, you wondered if the ball would ever go in.

Enter McGinn. And those clinching corners. It was a sensational end to a Hampden evening that will live long in the memory.

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