Is poor finishing a threat to Scotland’s World Cup hopes?

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September 7, 2021
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    Andy Robertson shot v MoldovaScotland captain Andy Robertson (left) passed up one of many clear-cut chances against Moldova

    Scotland's win at home against Moldova was their first in five games, taking them up to third in their World Cup qualifying group as rivals for second place Austria lost in Israel.

    Sounds like a good night's work, so why all the pessimism?

    Pre-match, Scotland boss Steve Clarke asked for his side to "be on the front foot, be positive and get the goals needed to win".

    The head coach got his wish, but it could have been so much more comfortable for the hosts against the world's 175th-ranked nation after a flurry of clear-cut chances were squandered.

    Here, BBC Scotland dissects how this has become a common theme for Clarke's side.

    • Scotland hold on for win against Moldova
    • 'A big player for us' – Clarke on Patterson
    • How far are Scotland away from the World Cup?

    'It could've been an easier night'

    With a large crowd roaring the Scots on at Hampden, the hosts got off to a flying start and a routine win looked inevitable when Lyndon Dykes tapped in a 14th-minute opener.

    But Scotland failed to convert several guilt-edged opportunities that followed, setting up a tense finish against the Moldovan minnows.

    Out of Scotland's 16 efforts on Saturday, 10 of them were taken from inside the box. But ultimately, they only had one goal to show for it.

    Scotland touchmapScotland had 25 touches in the Moldova box but failed to convert more than one chance

    "You always need the second goal to stop that nervy last five minutes, but if you keep clean sheets you win games," Clarke said post-match.

    While the Scotland manager seemed settled with a single strike being enough to secure the points, former Scotland midfielder Stuart McCall feels it was "hugely disappointing" to pass up a string of openings.

    "Speaking as an ex-manager, you can't do any more," McCall said on BBC Sportsound. "It could've been an easier night. Over the piece we've had five excellent chances that we've not taken.

    "You thought another goal and they'd cave in, but it didn't materialise and that's down to poor finishing. They weren't even half chances."

    BBC Scotland's chief sports writer Tom English added: "It was feeble Scotland were in that position. If they keep missing those chances they won't win the games they need to against the likes of Austria and Israel."

    This is nothing new

    Was Saturday night a one-off? The reality is this is a regular occurrence.

    In Scotland's past five fixtures – three games at Euro 2020 and World Cup qualifiers against Denmark and Moldova – they have scored just two goals from 62 attempts.

    Scotland have only had fewer shots than the opposition in one of those games, but have won just one of the encounters.

    In fact, out of all 19 European nations to play at least 10 games in 2021, Clarke's side have the fifth lowest conversion rate.

    In the 10 matches Scotland have played this year, they have racked up a total of 123 shots – an average of 12.3 per game.

    But Clarke's men have only hit the back of the net with 12 of those efforts, meaning it takes an average of at least 10 attempts for Scotland to hit the back of the net.

    Conversion rate graphicOnly four European nations have a lower shot conversion rate than Scotland in 2021

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    But at least Scotland are 'creating'

    'At least we are getting the chances' is the classic football cliche, which Clarke echoed post-match, and in this case it certainly applies.

    But just how do you go about breaking the burden?

    "The most important thing is not to become tight when the chances come along," ex-Scotland winger Neil McCann told BBC Scotland's Sportscene.

    "When you tighten up, you don't get the composed finish you're looking for. Once you get one, once you get two, you start to feel it and you stop thinking about the chance."

    In Clarke, Scotland's players have a manager who does not seemed phased by his side's lack of conversion, which should help relax his side ahead of a crunch game in Vienna on Tuesday.

    "If you're not creating chances, you're more worried," Clarke said. "If we don't concede, get one chance and score it, that'll be clinical enough."


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    September 7, 2021
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