WE had a dream. But all of our nightmares came true at Hampden as Scotland came back onto the major stage not with a bang, but a whimper.

The only people in the whole of Scotland who would have been happy with the outcome were newspaper sub-editors, with Patrik Schick’s knockout double a dream for headline-writers everywhere.

The rest of us will be awaking in the night with a fever for some time to come as we were reminded that as incredibly welcome as it was to be back at the big bash, there was part of the experience we had perhaps forgotten about. Isn’t that always the way? As time fades, you remember the party, not the hangover.

Scotland had waited 23 years for such an opportunity, but in the end, they couldn’t take their chances. They created enough to comfortably win the game. And yet, as a jubilant pre-match atmosphere gave way to a morbid post-mortem as the fans shuffled home, the prevailing feeling was one of ‘what if’?

It’s easy in hindsight of course to question the decisions of any manager after a defeat, but perhaps Steve Clarke may have cause to reflect on a couple of his selections.

The nightmare began for him even prior to kick-off, as news drifted through that one of Scotland’s star men in Kieran Tierney had failed to even make the bench after picking up a slight niggle in training.

Clarke decided to stick though with the formation that was essentially adopted to shoehorn both Tierney and Andy Robertson into the line-up with three at the back, and without the Arsenal man, it didn’t really work.

In attack too, Che Adams was left on the bench, with the out of form Ryan Christie in behind Lyndon Dykes up top. Whether his decision to remedy that at half-time was a tacit admission that he may have got that call wrong, or a reflection of the desperation of the situation at that point, only he will know.

There was no Billy Gilmour, no Nathan Patterson and no David Turnbull either, with experience favoured over the youthful exuberance.

Thankfully, despite the deflation that Tierney’s absence brought, the fans were on hand to lift spirits once more. There were just 12,000 of the Tartan Army inside Hampden, but as they boogied beforehand it sounded more like a 50,000-strong full house.

The Scottish players emerged, the roof came off Hampden again. Chests puffed out, heads held high, and all 11 players belted out Flower of Scotland along with the rest of the nation. God, how we’ve waited for scenes like this.

It was no surprise then when the Scots came roaring out of the traps, but it was the Czechs who got the first attempt on target, David Marshall saving well from Schick after John McGinn felt he had been fouled.

Scotland hit back, with a fine flowing move down the left allowing Robertson to swing in a cross for Dykes to prod just wide at the near post.

The home players were clearly pumped up, so much so that they started tackling one another. Stephen O’Donnell blocked Christie’s dribble into the area as his enthusiasm to get forward in support got the better of him, before Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong tripped over one another in their own half.

It prompted captain Robertson, who had started so impressively, to issue a plea for calm from his teammates.

Ironically, he then nearly set Hampden alight as Christie teed him up perfectly as he arrived in the box from the left, but his sidefoot effort was brilliantly tipped over by Tomas Vaclik.

But just as the half started with the Scots in the ascendency, so the Czechs dominated the closing stages, and after a series of corners, the home defence cracked.

A simple cross from the right from Vladimir Coufal was met with a towering header from dangerman Schick, and that’s exactly how Hampden felt as the ball arched past David Marshall and into the net.

Clarke sent Adams on for Christie as he went two up top, but it was the Czechs who seized the momentum forcing two decent saves from Marshall.

Adams showed what he can do though as he got involved in the action, dragging the Scots up the field. It culminated in a chance for Jack Hendry of all people, the defender picking up the scraps after Vaclik had palmed a cross clear and sending the ball off the crossbar.

Vaclik looked a great deal more impressive moments later though as a sliced clearance from the otherwise impressive Tomas Kalas dipped over his head, the keeper managing to claw the ball out before it dropped into the net.

It was a vital stop, because moments later the Scots were floored by a stunning Schick sucker-punch.

So much credit has to go to the Czech forward, recognising the situation quickly as a Hendry shot was blocked out to him around halfway. But as his outrageous, swerving effort curled and dipped beyond Marshall from 50 yards and into the net, the Scots could only reflect that it was so avoidable.

The decision-making from Hendry. The positioning of Marshall. The bubble well and truly burst.

Dykes blew a wonderful chance to get Scotland back into it, the foot of Vaclik denying him from close range, and substitute James Forrest was denied by a wonderful block after a jinking run, but their perseverance didn’t pay off.

The story in the end was one of frustration. Of missed chances and poor decision-making when it matters most.

The dream isn’t quite dead yet. But Scotland don’t half make it difficult for themselves sometimes.