IT took quite some doing to create something even uglier than the weather at Hampden last night, but by the end of it Group A managed to look even more gruesome. Whatever vision Gordon Strachan has of Scotland's future, this may be the match he always reflects on as the utterly miserable rock bottom. Not only are the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil long gone –those hopes died last year – even pride has disappeared after the results of this truly shocking campaign.
The group is now halfway through and Scotland have managed two points from the available 15, and that is before visiting Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia, where they play on Tuesday. Whether or not Mickey Thomas was right with his infamous dig about this being Scotland's worst ever team, it is certainly the worst ever attempt to reach a tournament.
Let there be no talk of Strachan now knowing what he has let himself in for. He is too shrewd not to have been aware of that already. It was demoralising for him to see how the night unfolded, all the same. Grant Hanley scored before the break and Gareth Bale was taken off at the end of his unremarkable first half: so far, so good. But when Robert Snodgrass was sent off with 20 minutes left for a tackle on Chris Gunter which resulted in a penalty – which Aaron Ramsey scored – the tie turned. Hal Robson-Kanu quickly scored again and Scotland visibly sapped. Ramsey was also sent off but that was deep in stoppage time, too late to matter.
Scotland's early play was as foul as the snowy weather, they recovered to play forcefully at the end of the first half and the start of the second, but then Wales came back at them. In truth they were worthy winners even without relying on Bale. There were spells, especially in the first half, when Scotland's first touches were poor, they gave possession away cheaply, they lost challenges and they seemed incapable of digging the ball out of their own half. The loss of Steven Fletcher to injury within the two minutes was desperately deflating, too. There seemed no great contact when he went up with Ben Davies but the striker landed awkwardly on his ankle, never got back on his feet, and was carried off.
The snow was swirling around the pitch and the wind was bitingly cold and cruel, but that did not prevent the Welsh from assembling some slick first-half attacks. When Hanley and Allan McGregor got into a silly fankle Bale almost capitalised. Later Wales worked the ball to him – even when others had a chance to shoot – and McGregor palmed away his drive. James McArthur, Graham Dorrans and Snodgrass were all culpable too, looking oddly uncomfortable and hesitant for players used to performing every week in the Barclays Premier League.
This wasn't the marauding, irrepressible Bale Scotland had feared, though. Tottenham's collective blood pressure would have gone off the charts at the sight of their man – having been struck low by a virus all week – being exposed to this horrible Glasgow weather. When Hanley snapped into a tackle on him once, and then again, Bale was dumped on his backside and briefly needed treatment. Maybe he needed a warm bed, too. Having jeered his every touch and periodically taunted him, the Scotland supporters roared their approval at the news he had been substituted at half-time.
By then the game had evened itself out, with Scotland's passing improved and the midfield doing more to move the game up the pitch. Strachan had Chris Burke on the right, Dorrans, and McArthur in the middle, Snodgrass wide left and Shaun Maloney playing just off the centre forward. Burke made his presence felt with a wonderful deep cross which Kenny Miller – Fletcher's early replacement – attacked with a back post header narrowly off target. The forward then missed with another header from a Snodgrass cross. His time as the first-choice striker is at an end but Miller still brought something to the side with some clever passing to bring in the wide players.
A first half that had begun so anxiously ended in Scottish joy. Charlie Mulgrew had been entitled to fret about the prospect of Bale running at him but he was spared that ordeal. Instead, he made the Scotland goal, although the real credit went to the scorer. Mulgrew's corner into the Welsh goalmouth was well enough delivered but it was Hanley – a surprise starter, who began nervously – who cleverly gave Sam Ricketts the slip and matched the cross with a run and powerful header into the net. Snodgrass's stylish bending shot almost doubled the lead early in the second half but the ball struck the post.
Hampden roared. The Welsh regrouped. It would have been unjust if they had lost this match and the game's turning point ensured they did not. Snodgrass raced back to block Gunter's cross from the right but his tackle was late and lunging, cutting down the right-back just inside the box. He had been booked for an earlier foul on Gunter, so his discipline let him down; a red card and a penalty, then. Ramsey smashed it down the middle and in off the underside of the crossbar.
Scotland were still processing all of that when Wales opened them up to score again. One substitute played it down the right to another, Jonathan Williams to Andy King, and his cross into the middle caught Scotland exposed. Robson-Kanu rose above Caldwell to bury another header. McGregor later saved with his legs to prevent King making the score even worse.
Hampden was chilled to the bone.
Scorers. Scotland – Hanley (45); Wales – Ramsey (73 pen), Robson-Kanu 74
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