Slovakia 1-0 Scotland: Nations League promotion on hold

Slovakia 1-0 Scotland: Jan Gregus goal leaves Steve Clarke’s side waiting a little longer to earn UEFA Nations League promotion as they slip to narrow defeat in Trnava

  • Scotland lost 1-0 to Slovakia in Trnava in Sunday’s UEFA Nations League fixture
  • It leaves Steve Clarke’s side waiting to secure promotion into elite League A
  • Both these teams secured their Euro 2020 place in Thursday’s play-off finals
  • Jan Gregus fired home the decisive goal from the edge of the box in first-half
  • Ollie McBurnie and Stuart Armstrong had Scotland’s clearest early openings
  • Kenny McLean forced a fine save from Slovakia keeper Marek Rodak after break
  • Leigh Griffiths was denied a late equaliser by Rodak in stoppage time 

Perhaps it was inevitable that a little hangover would follow the party.

Scotland didn’t play badly in Trnava. Far from it at times. They were the better, more fluent team for stretches of the match.

But the finishing touch needed to capitalise on a lengthy list of chances remained frustratingly absent. 

Jan Gregus (left) celebrates after firing Slovakia into a 32nd-minute lead in Trnava 

The Slovakia players crowd around Gregus after he fired them into a first-half advantage

Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths is left to rue a late chance as Slovakia claimed the win

A first defeat in ten games robbed Steve Clarke’s men of the opportunity to follow up Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification glory by matching a sequence last achieved 93 years ago.

It also paused their push for promotion to the top tier of the Nations League. That reward could yet be sealed with a game to spare if the Czech Republic draw with Israel later this evening. 

Otherwise it is onto Netanya on Wednesday night as Clarke’s side seek to extend their return to the big time into another competition.

The national manager made eight chances to his starting line-up after the physically and emotionally-draining delight of Belgrade. 

Clarke stressed it was the 120 minutes and nerve-straining shoot-out – not the lengthy post-match celebrations – that influenced his need for alterations. In truth, it was only the final piece of the jigsaw that was missing in the first half.

Scotland passed it well to pin back for decent spells. Oli McBurnie alone could have had a hat-trick before the interval, but it was Jan Gregus who found the moment of incision for a Slovakia team coming off the back of their own play-off success over Northern Ireland. 

Scotland’s Stuart Armstrong sees a shot saved by Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak 

Kenny McLean heads towards goal during the second half but his effort doesn’t find the net

Kenny McLean tries to twist his body into a shooting position under pressure from two rivals

Kieran Tierney, John McGinn and Ryan Christie – whose tearful interview on Thursday caused bottom lips to quiver across Scotland – were the only three starters retained by Clarke. The motivation for the others was obvious. Prove you are good enough to depose one of the qualification heroes in the longer term.

For McBurnie, there was a further spur. Thirteen previous caps had failed to yield a single goal for Sheffield United’s £20 million man. Chances to amend that record were quick to arrive in No 14.

Christie had already seen an early strike held by Marek Rodak when he fed McBurnie in the seventh minute. A less-than-perfect first touch allowed Slovakia to squeeze him out before Liam Palmer drilled fractionally too high on the follow-up.

McBurnie didn’t have to wait long for an even better opportunity. This time, it was Stuart Armstrong rolling the ball into his path. An instant shot looked the option, but the striker took a touch that allowed an eventual left-foot effort to be blocked. 

Scotland manager Steve Clarke issues instructions to John McGinn and Andrew Considine 

Scotland’s Ryan Christie puts pressure on Slovakia’s Patrik Hrosovsky during the first half

Stuart Armstrong is shown a yellow card for a foul on Juraj Kucka during the opening half


Slovakia (4-1-4-1): Rodak; Pekarik, Satka, Skriniar, Mazan; Hrosovsky; Duris (Safranko 90+4), Kucka (Lobotka 61), Hamsik (c) (Rusnak 68), Gregus; Duda

Substitutes not used: Greif (GK), Jakubech (GK); Pauschek, Valjent, Gyomber, Suslov, Mraz, Schranz, Mak

Manager: Stefan Tarkovic

Scorer: Gregus 32

Booked: Kucka, Pekarik, Duda, Mazan, Rusnak

Scotland (4-3-3): Gordon; Considine (Griffiths 68), Cooper, McKenna, Tierney; Palmer, McGinn (c), McLean; Christie, McBurnie, Armstrong (Shankland 87)

Substitutes not used: Marshall (GK), McLaughlin (GK); O’Donnell, Taylor, McTominay, Gallagher, Jack, McGregor, Paterson, Burke

Manager: Steve Clarke

Booked: Armstrong, McGinn, Christie

Referee: Istvan Kovacs (Romania)  

Scotland should have been in front. Instead, they were facing a deficit after 31 minutes.

Slovakia has signalled their threat from distance when Juraj Kucka tested Craig Gordon – winning his first cap in two years – with a swerving early effort. 

But the need to close down quicker wasn’t quite heeded when Peter Pekarik found Gregus 25 yards from goal.  

To be fair, it was a crisp, low strike off his right boot. A little nick off Kenny McLean ensured Gordon would be wrong-footed as the ball zipped inside the post.

It was tough on Scotland. And felt tougher still at the break after three chances for an equaliser slipped away. This was a positive performance missing a finishing touch.

First, Palmer couldn’t quite sort out his feet following a terrific run and deep cross from Kieran Tierney. Then it was McBurnie again, unable to get enough angle on a header to beat Rodak from Palmer’s enticing delivery.

Armstrong’s task was tougher. Running powerfully onto lovely through-ball from Christie, his dinked attempt from an acute angle bounced wide of the far post.

Even when Scotland got everything right, they found Rodak in their way. With 62 minutes gone, another excellent surge from Tierney led to him finding McLean. The Norwich midfielder got his neck muscles behind a powerful header by Rodak saved superbly.

Clarke withdrew Andy Considine for Leigh Griffiths to change shape with two out-and-out strikers. The pressure continued in more ragged manner, without bringing reward as Griffiths was denied with the last kick.

After what’s already been achieved this week, no-one will be overly downcast about that.   

Scotland’s Ryan Christie is on the receiving end of a tackle by Slovakia’ Peter Pekarik 

Scotland coach Steve Clarke and his team watch on from the away dug-out in Trnava 

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