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Abject display by Scotland leaves George Burley out on a limb
* Edwards 17,
* Andy Hunter at Cardiff City Stadium
Aaron Ramsey, Wales The Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey, right, celebrates scoring his side's third goal with team-mate Simon Church. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA
It was an innocuous aside that damned George Burley most of all in Cardiff. Scotland were dismantled by a Wales team with an average age of 22, he was slaughtered by the Tartan Army for a full hour and afterwards John Toshack spoke in sombre tones out of respect for the victim of an embarrassing ordeal. But when the Wales manager turned his thoughts from protecting his counterpart to tactics, the facade slipped. "I took the young lads off because we had one eye on the Under-21s' game on Wednesday," said Toshack. Scotland's humiliation was complete.
To recap, Toshack withdrew his entire strike force of Sheffield United's Ched Evans and Reading's Simon Church to keep them fresh for a European Under-21 Championship qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina – after 45 minutes against a team ranked 13th in the world exactly two years ago and who had entered thelatest World Cup qualifying campaign with genuine designs on South Africa. The substitution of the sublime Aaron Ramsey on 56 minutes can only have been an act of mercy.
There is so much for Burley and the Scottish Football Association to digest, after the former's insistence that progress is under way and the latter's decision to keep faith with the manager were exposed to ridicule here on Saturday, that it is hard to know where to begin. "Burley, Burley Get to Fuck" chanted the Tartan Army as the fragile truce that followed his reprieve from the sack in September was shattered just two friendlies into the supposed new era. Anger had previously been reserved for Gordon Smith and George Peat, the SFA chief executive and president. and while both were booed when their ashen faces appeared on the stadium screens, This time it was Burley's head they sought.
"I've known George a while and I don't think he deserved that," added Toshack, whose own problems in World Cup qualification were forgotten on the evidence of this balanced, incisive, Ramsey-inspired conquest. "We probably deserved to win but, if we are being honest, we have to accept we were fortunate at times at the start and even in the second half [Wayne] Hennessey had to make some outstanding saves."
To recap again, Wales were "fortunate" for the first 15 minutes at most, when Hennessey denied James McFadden at close range, Kenny Miller spurned a fine chance, Gareth Bale's dawdling inside his area went unpunished and Don Cowie's surge towards goal was thwarted by a back-pass picked up unpunished by the goalkeeper. Hennessey then made one routine stop from Derek Riordan plus one impressive save from the Scotland substitute Kevin Kyle in the 84th minute.
In the intervening 69 minutes Wales were so assured, so intelligent in their distribution and movement, that Toshack's insistence his young side can mature and make an international impact over the next three years appeared no flight of fancy. In the 18-year-old Ramsey they have an astonishing talent that surely can only improve under Arsène Wenger. The Arsenal midfielder was at the heart of all three goals, delivering the cross that David Edwards swept beyond David Marshall, the pass that released Joe Ledley, who crossed for Church to convert his first international goal, and then capping his display with a brilliant individual goal.
By contrast Scotland were abysmal and fortunate to avoid further punishment when Church was fouled inside their box and Marshall was only booked for handling outside his area as Sam Vokes raced clear. "A friendly decision for a friendly match," said Toshack.
The disintegration of a Scotland defence rich in Champions League experience was eclipsed in shock value only by the sight of senior players raising the white flag midway through the first half. To be blunt, in tribute to the Scotland attack, this was a surrender, a total collapse, a disgrace. "There are no excuses for that," said Burley, who was asked if the non-performance constituted a resignation issue. The Scotland manager has in the past deserved more sympathy and understanding than he has received but the dagger-to-the-heart question was legitimate here. This felt like an end, or at the very least the beginning of the end. "That's up to other people, isn't it?" he replied. "We were not good enough. We got beat too easily for me and I couldn't pick one positive out of that."
There are three months until the draw for the European Championship qualifiers is made, four until Scotland play again and 10 until they resume competitive football. Burley must accept, having been granted a stay of execution in September and presided over a sequence of three wins in 14 matches, with not one friendly match won, that he has presented the SFA with an opportunity to start anew.
Taken from the Guardian/Observer