Scotland 2-2 England: No room for error in remaining World Cup fixtures

Scotland's Charlie Mulgrew and Stuart Armstrong are left disappointed against England
A stoppage-time goal left Scotland disappointed with their draw against England

The exhilaration of being moments away from a thrilling victory over England has to give way to a sense of realism. Scotland are not lost in Group F, but they remain a long way from a place of comfort.

The merits of a performance that combined elements of doggedness, two glorious instances of technique and familiar defensive and passing shortcomings, were contained within the 90 minutes.

Hours after the end of the 2-2 draw with England at Hampden, Scotland were further behind their rivals for second place in Group F.

Slovenia defeated Malta 2-0, while Slovakia won 2-1 in Lithuania, results that leave Scotland in fourth place, three points behind Slovenia and four behind Slovakia.

It is not certain that England, on 14 points, will stay top of the group, but it remains likely for the only side still unbeaten in the section.

It is also fair to assume that Gareth Southgate's squad are more likely than not to secure victories in each of their remaining four games, away to Malta, at home to Slovakia and Slovenia, and away to Lithuania.

So where does that leave Scotland?

Group F

Needing assistance from their oldest rivals, certainly, since if England do not defeat Slovakia and Slovenia then Scotland will need to win all of their final four games - away to Lithuania, at home to Malta, at home to Slovakia, then away to Slovenia.

To put that in context, Scotland have earned eight points from their opening six fixtures, a return of 1.3 points per game. Yet, should England remain dominant, then there is a thin sliver of hope left for Gordon Strachan's side.

They drew 1-1 with Lithuania at Hampden - which, along with the listless display in the 3-0 loss away to Slovakia, has been the most galling performance of Scotland's campaign - but the Lithuanians have won only one of their three home games so far and only Malta have conceded more goals in the group.

Yet, while Slovakia have conceded four and Slovenia three, Scotland have shipped 10 goals - a stark reflection of the team's greatest vulnerability.

Scotland ought to consider a win in Lithuania achievable, although that is still a different order from it being likely.

On the same match day, Slovakia will host Slovenia, when a draw or an away win would be most beneficial to Strachan's side.

Remaining fixtures

  • Lithuania (away) 1 Sept
  • Malta (home) 4 Sept
  • Slovakia (home) 5 Oct
  • Slovenia (away) 8 Oct

Scotland then face two home games and the obligation to take six points from them has not changed from when the draw was made.

To have any realistic chance of finishing in the top two, Scotland had to be effective at Hampden, particularly against their immediate rivals.

The Scots lost away to Slovakia, but any ambition to progress needs to be underpinned by the ability to see off the second seeds in Glasgow - albeit Slovakia are currently the top scorers in the group.

Craig Gordon and Joe Hart
Both goalkeepers have come in for criticism following the 2-2 draw at Hampden

The final round of fixtures sees Slovakia at home to Malta, so almost certainly guaranteed three points, and Scotland away to Slovenia, who are currently unbeaten at home.

That will be the most challenging of the final four fixtures for Strachan's side, but the head coach would gladly accept a scenario in which Scotland are still contenders going into the game.

It is possible to envision that situation with a draw in Lithuania, followed by wins over Malta and Slovakia at home, leaving Scotland on 15 points going into the last game - and then needing a win to prevail.

That scenario, though, would require Scotland to be more effective, in attack and defence, than they have been in the campaign so far.

Second place is not yet out of reach and, for now, that position still delivers a place in the play-offs.

Following yesterday's games, it was the runners-up in Group I (with results against teams ranked one to five in the group taken into account) who sit just outside the eight best runners up.

Had Scotland lost heavily or meekly to England then they might have been looking for a new head coach.

For now, they still have hope. The campaign rolls on, not yet futile but still unlikely to ultimately deliver anything but disappointment, unless Scotland can deliver a dramatic change in form in their final four games.

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