It is not every day that you get international teams visiting Dumfries and Galloway. Ghana's Under 21s were to be the first international side to visit Palmerston Park may not be the most glamorous name in the international football directory but the neat ground made me feel nostalgic for the terracing at either end of grounds. Pity only one end was open but the 3,119 crowd did not exactly stretch security. Part of that number was a number of visiting fans. They may have only been a handful but they out sang the majority when it came to national anthems. It was also nice to see that we are not the only ones that do not know the middle verse of our anthem.
Showing the right way to play
Scotland managed to keep Rainer Bonhof's record as Scotland's Under 21 coach bereft of losses. That make it two draws and three wins. They also appear to prefer to score just the two goals (2-1 against Israel and 2-0 against Iceland). This time the goals came courtesy of Gary Caldwell and Brian Kerr and they effectively killed the game as a contest. However, it was good to see good passes being made (both long and clever short stuff) that found the man and players playing with confidence.
James McFadden made the starting line up and played like he was out to impress someone. In fact, all the Scottish players looked like they were out to impress. The 3-5-2 line up obviously suited them and they controlled the first half with ease. They were always first to the ball, the one-twos came off and any fifty-fifty challenge ended on the end of a Scottish boot. Scotland's two front men were being fed by Hughes and they were causing the Ghana defense all sorts of problems. In the 7th minute it was Hughes who was the one setting the problem. He sent in a long range belter which was tipped over for a corner. McFadden's cross somehow fell to Hughes again and this time only the stadium clock was troubled.
However, it was not long before Scotland dominance of the game was evident by the scoreline. Just as evidence of Scotland's will to win, just before the goal, a Hammell free kick found McFadden and two others running in to goal. Unfortunately they were just offside but it shows willing to get into the right place. The goal came from yet another set piece, a Scotland corner. This time it was Hughes who sent it over from the left. The ball fell to Caldwell who was not about to do anything clever apart from drive it low into the net. It was no more then Scotland deserved as they had spent most of the game in the opposition half.
Ghana were rarely seen as an attacking force. They appeared to be easily brushed off the ball and ran out of ideas when they neared the penalty box. They reverted to long range efforts like the one from the captain Imoro Lukman just before Scotland scored their second goal. This must have been some sort of relief for Lukman as Stuart Duff was giving him a torrid time as he scampered down the right time and time again to send dangerous crosses over. The second goal was just waiting to be scored. With Scotland dominating, the whole team appeared to be wanting to score. It was Brain Kerr who got the honour as he sent in a cracking 25 yard drive that Alex Agyepong never stood a chance of stopping. Scotland should have had another to really finish the tie when Hammell and Kerr combined well before send in a cross from the left. Unfortunately, the unmarked Tom McManus was just a couple of inches too far forward to direct his header to trouble Agyepong.
Hughes continued to set up some nice moves and it was his slipped pass to McFadden that created the next chance for a goal. McFadden ran onto the ball and his close range effort cannoned off the Ghana's goalie and over the bar. As the half neared it's end the pace visible slowed with Ghana finally getting to play the ball around. They still lacked the penetration but they did set hearts racing on the 40 minute mark. Once again it was a long range effort for the captain, Lukman, that was hit with more power that had to be touched round the right hand post by Craig Gordon. Luckily the header by substitute Owuso Agyemang from the resultant corner went straight to Gordon's hands.
It was disappointing that the second half was not as exciting as the first. With the game won, Bonhof took the chance to get some some fresh legs on the field. Livingston's David McEwan was on from the start of the second half in goal. A number of other changes were made in the early stages of the half. Just before McFadden and Tom McManus were replaced by the Old Firm pairing of Simon Lynch and Steven MacLean, the former had a last effort at goal. It looked like a lazy shot from the middle to the right of the goalie but if fairly zipped just past the post. Scotland looked to be denied a stonewall penalty when Lynch was shoved onto the ground by Daniel Coleman as he tried to set himself up in the box. The referee was not interested in the least and the game moved on.
With 25 minutes to go, it looked like the score was going to be 3-0 as a result of Lynch and MacLean linking up well. MacLean set off on a driving run from the right into the box after being served by John Kennedy, in his own half of the centre circle, before releasing the ball to Lynch on the six yard box. The goalie and Lynch somehow tangled and the ball floated into the net after running up Lynch's body. Just as I sat down from celebrating, the referee was pointing out the hand ball he saw. This did not deter Scotland and it was Hughes who wanted to get on the scoresheet most. He missed out on his luck when after a driving run into the box, Ghana's Agyepong managed to save two point blank shots from the ranger's man. As the game moved on as Scotland had patently taken the foot off the gas, Ghana were playing some nice football. They started getting adventurous and it was their turn to miss out on luck. First Muntari tried to sneak the ball in at the left hand post after running down the bye line but it hit the side netting. Then he had a fine 25 yard shot touched over the bar by McEwan.
The final stages were enlivened by another link up between Anthony McPartland and MacLean. The ball came to MacLean as he was on the right hand edge of the box and he released a screamer of a shot. Agyepong must have really warm hands after he put that one over the bar. The final note of interest was when Ghana's Mohamed Habib fouled Stephen Simmons 25 yards out from the visitors goal. Gary Caldwell (who had inherited the captain's armband via Hughes and Murray) decided to have a go. His shot cleared the wall with ease but unfortunately also the bar.
All in all a fine night's entertainment. The man of the match was a deserving Stephen Hughes.
Scotland: Craig Gordon (Hearts), Gary Caldwell (Newcastle United), Steven Hammell (Motherwell), John Kennedy (Celtic), Chris Doig (Nottingham Forest), Brian Kerr (Newcastle United), Stuart Duff (Dundee United), Ian Murray (Hibs) Captain, James McFadden (Motherwell), Stephen Hughes (Rangers) and Tom McManus (Hibs)
Subs: David McEwan (Livingston on for Gordon 45 mins), Stephen Simmons (Hearts on for Murray 60 mins), Anthony McPartland (Celtic on for Duff 85 mins), Simon Lynch (Celtic on for McFadden 50 mins), Steven MacLean (Rangers on for McManus 50 mins) and Burton O'Brien (Livingston on for Hughes 85 mins)
Ghana: Alex Agyepong, Imoro Lukman, William Thompson, Michael Ocansey, Jonathan Quartey, Francis Mantey, Edmond Peprah, Mohamed Habib, Daniel Coleman, Yusif Chibsah and Saliu Muntari
Subs: Kofi Egyir, Moro Gariba, Owusu Agyemang, Avervor Rasheed and Eric Amponsah