ANDY Robertson is one of the world’s best left-backs. Perhaps the very best. His place in the Scotland line-up based on ability alone should, in theory, be unimpeachable.

There may be a case to say though that in the captain’s enforced absence against Ukraine, that Scotland were a better team. Not because he wasn’t playing, per se, but because his injury meant that manager Steve Clarke didn’t have to fit round pegs into square holes to accommodate both the Liverpool star and Kieran Tierney.

When Tierney was missing for the World Cup play-off semi-final against this same opponent back in June, Clarke stuck with the 3-5-2 system that had ostensibly been designed to shoehorn both him and Robertson into the starting XI.

In fairness, it was a system that had often served Scotland well, but without Tierney, the keystone, the whole thing fell apart.

With Robertson missing on this occasion, Clarke decided to revert to the 4-3-3 that had belatedly steadied the ship on that chastening evening in early summer that ended the nation’s dreams of reaching Qatar.

As a consequence, he was able then to play more of his players in their rightful positions, meaning that individuals looked more comfortable and the collective had a more balanced feel to it.

Scott McTominay was playing deep in midfield where he is at home rather than on the right of the back three, where he has been found wanting on several occasions at international level due to his lack of natural defensive instincts.

Nathan Patterson was deployed as a natural right-back, briefly in any case, before a concerning injury interrupted his bright start to the match and he was stretchered off. Aaron Hickey slotted in effortlessly.

With Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie, Callum McGregor and John McGinn beavering away in support of Che Adams up top, the Scots’ gameplan was subsequently far more sophisticated than it had been back in June, the set-up inviting them to play the ball through the lines rather than lumping the ball forward at the first opportunity, as had been the case when Lyndon Dykes was partnering Adams in the play-off semi-final.

It led Scotland to get into dangerous areas early on, particularly out wide, with Christie’s low fizzing cross from the left just evading Adams as he steamed into the six-yard box, before Christie himself got a little too much on a glancing header from an Armstrong centre to nod over.

It was about 15 minutes into the second half though that Scotland really began to turn the screw, as a brilliant, incisive passing move saw McTominay feed Armstrong into the area.

The Southampton man had been unusually wasteful in good positions all night though, and this was no different, as he blasted over from right in front of Anatoliy Trubin in the Ukrainian goal.

Adams would then crash a header off the bar from a McGinn cross, before Trubin somehow kept out another header from Adams after McGinn had hung the ball up once more. Incredibly, main offender Armstrong would again head wide from a brilliant position as it threatened to turn into one of those nights for the Scots.

Regardless of what went on to happen from that point though, what all of this showed clearly was that the system was working well, the Scottish players all knowing their roles intimately and playing a brand of passing football combined with a high-energy press that the Ukrainian players were struggling to live with.

The hosts were all over the visitors, smothering their attacks and not allowing them to get anywhere near the halfway line at this stage, never mind Craig Gordon’s goal. All they were missing was the reward their play merited.

Thankfully, it would not be one of those nights. And it was the Tartan Army’s latest talisman in McGinn who would finally produce the finishing touch that had been lacking all evening.

Once again, Scotland won back possession high up the pitch, but as the ball was fed towards the Aston Villa man, he was second favourite to get onto it. The intervention of his most famous asset though, his imperious rear-end, made sure that he turned Valeriy Bondar and then swivelled to toe-poke into the bottom corner.

As well as giving the Scots a justified lead, there was a touch of poetic justice that it was Bodnar who McGinn dumped onto the turf to score, given the defender had somehow escaped a red card for cleaning out Adams with a clothesline earlier in the game.

There are always nerves among the Tartan Army when their team are protecting a single goal lead – it is Scotland after all – but substitute Lyndon Dykes settled nerves by heading home expertly from Ryan Fraser’s corner to make the last 10 minutes a serene coast to victory. Incredibly, the pair repeated the trick a few minutes later, Dykes nodding in again just to make sure.

It was the overall performance of the Scotland team though that had the fans inside Hampden absolutely purring, and that will surely give manager Clarke food for thought on how to set up when his skipper returns to the fold.