Scotland seemed a bit unsure how to handle this uncharted territory. Decades of international failure took a toll. A place at Euro 2024 was sealed with two qualifying matches to spare, meaning this visit of Norway always promised to be notable mainly for celebration of the achievements of Steve Clarke and his team. Yet against this backdrop, Scotland were without a win in four games. Clarke would always demand the stopping of the rot, regardless of broader success.
Scotland’s players and staff took to their post-match lap of honour having failed to end their semi-troubling run. The sharing of six goals on a highly entertaining evening at Hampden Park tells the story of teams who were playing without shackles. Norway were perfectly value for at least a point. Clarke and Scotland can shrug that the important work was carried out much earlier.
Norway’s attitude to this fixture was supposedly illustrated by their willingness to let Erling Haaland sit out. The prolific Manchester City marksman took a blow to a foot during last Thursday’s friendly win over the Faroe Islands, with Norway staff insisting the injury was not serious. He was spared this evening in Glasgow, presumably to focus on upcoming club matters.
Yet Norway had a point to prove. Scotland’s smash-and-grab victory in Oslo in June was hugely significant in determining the qualification fate of these teams. The Scots held their nerve thereafter to emerge from Group A, with Norway and their striker denied an automatic berth in Germany.
The visitors opened in a manner which implied the righting of wrongs was uppermost in their thoughts. Scotland were woefully sluggish in defending a cross from the Norway right, as typified by Nathan Patterson’s failure to appropriately close down Aron Dønnum as the ball broke back to the Toulouse forward. Dønnum flicked the ball beyond Zander Clark, with the aid of a Patterson deflection and a post.
The goal briefly roused Scotland. Positivity from John McGinn drew a desperate foul from Kristoffer Ajer, with Scott McTominay’s free-kick breaking back into the path of Callum McGregor. The Celtic captain’s shot was blocked by the high arm of Dønnum. McGinn did the rest from the penalty spot.
Norway edged in front again before the first quarter had played out. Scotland’s left flank – minus the injured Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney – was again exposed, Julian Ryerson this time supplying a low cross. Clark will feel he should have done better with Jørgen Strand Larsen’s close-range flick, which spun across the line before any Scotland defender could clear. Clarke looked on aghast at the level of his team’s generosity. The ball should never have reached Strand Larsen in the first place.
In a game that had a strange, end-of-season feel, Scotland responded once more. Kenny McLean rose to meet a McTominay corner, with the midfielder’s header finding Norway’s net via the unfortunate Leo Østigård. Scotland were not particularly worthy of half-time parity but they were quite right to accept it. Only a terrific Patterson block prevented Dønnum from notching a third for Norway, two minutes before the interval.
By the time Scotland reach the finals, Clarke will hope Tierney and Robertson are fit and flying. Angus Gunn, recently established as the first-choice goalkeeper, also missed this international camp. That position will be strengthened further if Craig Gordon re-establishes himself at Hearts after long-term injury. Che Adams, Clarke’s go-to striker, was another absentee as the Scots faced Georgia and Norway. In short, there were mitigating circumstances for shortcomings here.
Minus Adams, Clarke handed a rare start to Jacob Brown. The Luton Town forward should have justified his manager’s faith but instead failed to connect with the ball right in front of goal, seconds before the hosts took the lead for the first time. Brown’s blushes were spared. This owed everything to the tenacity of Stuart Armstrong, who chased a lost cause to win back possession. Armstrong played a one-two with McGinn before beating Egil Selvik at his near post. This finally felt like a Hampden party.
Clark saved well from Sander Berge as Norway chased a third. Scotland’s second-half showing, though, was an improvement on the first. A fourth goal would have boosted chances of Clarke’s men taking their place in pot two of the finals draw. It never really looked like arriving. Instead, Norway extended the winless spell. Ryerson rampaged down the right before evading the stranded Clark with his cross. Mohamed Elyounoussi, once of Celtic, headed into the unguarded net.