Shankland’s flaws become strengths in role reversal

Lawrence Shankland

Just after the hour mark, before the Dutch deluge washed Scotland away, Lawrence Shankland was finally presented with an opportunity to show his undeniable strengths.

The Hearts captain had spent his night doing the very things that some thought were potential weaknesses – working the channels, holding the line, bringing others into the game.

Then the Dutch got themselves into a desperate muddle at the back. Scott McTominay ransacked them in their own penalty area and, suddenly, Shankland was one-on-one with Mark Flekken.

In that moment you’d have bet the house on the most prolific finisher in the Scottish Premiership to execute.

He stood up Flekken and picked his spot, which happened to be the face of the crossbar. You almost did a double take. Shankland scores in his sleep from that position.

All season you could have blindfolded him, spun him around three times and still he would have put away that chance. Different stage, though. Different planet.

That was a black mark against his name for sure. He had to score. Just had to. And it was a shame because he’d worked efficiently to that point, a surprise selection to start the game but one who was fitting in.

His one-touch lay-offs to team-mates were precisely the kind of thing that Che Adams does. His presence up top was not as physically powerful as Lyndon Dykes but he was performing the nuts and bolts in his own quiet way.

This was a different type of night for him, a night of subtleties, a night of being part of a team rather than being the focal point, the main man, the goal machine.

Shankland had to show his manager that this team can still function as his manager wants it to with him at the heart of the attack. And he did that.

Scotland created a truckload of moments while he was on the field. A Ryan Christie attempt tipped on to the crossbar, a John McGinn shot saved, a Christie header wide. All excellent moments.

Shankland was involved in teeing up Billy Gilmour, who pushed it wide. He was involved again when playing in Andy Robertson, but the Scotland captain was indecisive.

And then it came. The chance he would have dreamed about in bed on Thursday, the very kind he’s gobbled up all season.

Twenty league goals in 30 games or, to put it another way, 51% of Hearts’ league goals. Many of them were a whole lot harder than his golden chance against the Dutch. This was almost routine by comparison.

Steve Clarke had said, somewhat enigmatically, that he was going to try something different in this game. The something, as it turned out, was starting Shankland ahead of his two more chosen ones, Adams and Dykes.

And so, having gone up against Jack Baldwin of Ross County and Jack Baird of Greenock Morton in his last two games for his club, Shankland was now facing the great Virgil van Dijk for his country.

Van Dijk with his Champions League and his Premier League and his European Super Cup and his World Club Cup. A former player of the year in Europe, a veteran of more than eight years at Liverpool with a 70% win return.

One of the finest, if not the finest, centre-back in the world. Go do your stuff against this guy, Lawrence.

Had he put away that chance instead of hitting the woodwork, you’d be talking about him now usurping Adams and Dykes.

Maybe that’s still a valid argument but the miss was a catastrophic blow to a team that only trailed 1-0 at the time – and a touch unluckily at that.

‘Reality hits Scots between eyes’

The floodgates opened soon after and it was ugly. Having wasted chances they were schooled by a team who were good enough to take advantage. Softness defined the endgame. It was a concerning surrender.

Scotland came into this having shipped 14 goals in their previous five, winless, matches. Then it was 15 and 16. They grew ever more spooked and it became 17 and 18.

A drubbing. The way the lights went out was surreal. The Netherlands are a fine side but you couldn’t say that they were at their very best on Friday.

Having now drawn two and lost four of their last six games, Clarke has work to do. Reality hit in Amsterdam. Right between the eyes.

Much more of these concentration lapses and the Euros could go up in a puff of smoke.

They’re in a group where, at their very, very best, they’re capable of winning every game. They’re also in a group where their own deficiencies could see them lose every game, perhaps badly.

Clarke needs to reset. He’s got three more friendlies to come against Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and Finland and the team needs wins, solidity and a return of momentum.

The big show in Germany is not far away. Scotland have picked a terrible time to look tender.

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