Hungary 0-2 Scotland: What did we learn from Pedro Martinez Losa's first game in charge?
Anyone's Game takes a look at the new era under the Spaniard as they open their 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign with victory
Pedro Martinez Losa’s first game in charge of Scotland began with victory over Hungary in the opening game of the 2023 World Cup qualifiers in Budapest.
Erin Cuthbert gave Scotland a 16th minute lead on the rebound after her initial penalty was saved.
But Scotland struggled to open up their hosts until the introduction of substitute Martha Thomas, who headed in her fifth goal in nine Scotland games.
Hungary’s Klaudia Kovacs headed off her own bar as the hosts offered little at the other end.
Scotland now host the Faroe Islands at Hampden on Tuesday, who lost 10-0 to group favourites Spain earlier in the evening.
The nine group winners qualify automatically, with the runners-up entering the play-offs.
A lack of goals had been a problem for Scotland. They rattled 10 past Cyprus when the European Championship qualification campaign was effectively over. But that apart, under Shelley Kerr and interim boss Stuart McLaren they had scored only twice in six games - both in friendlies; one a penalty, one a goalkeeping error. It had been instrumental in Scotland’s failure to qualify for next summer’s European Championships.
McLaren had tried a 4-3-3 which usually fell into a 4-2-3-1. Martinez Losa’s first line-up was not too dissimilar.
Jane Ross made her first Scotland start since December. Kirsty Hanson and Claire Emslie began out wide.
Christy Grimshaw can play up front or midfield. She had started the Wales friendly as a striker, but interestingly she began alongside Lisa Robertson in the centre of midfield, with Erin Cuthbert given a free role ahead of them.
The opening goal came from Cuthbert racing ahead of Ross, catching out the defender who was caught on the wrong side of the Chelsea star and bundled her over in the box.
At times Grimshaw would press ahead of Cuthbert, and there was a fluidity to Scotland’s play, but they were not opening up the hosts as much as they would have liked. The home side were playing a rigid 4-4-2 and Scotland’s lack of width was a problem, with Emslie the only real winger in the team. The full-backs tended to sit deep.
Scotland were being pressed in possession, being forced back the way when they should have been looking forward passes. At other times, when they went wide the gaps between players was too large and passes all too often were not reaching their intended target.
At one point Rachel McLauchlan made a promising run from defence, stepping inside and finding space. But she soon ran into a bank of four defenders with no-one in blue offering her a viable option inside the box.
Despite all Scotland’s possession - at times as much as 75% - Hungary were comfortable in defence.
Martinez Losa’s changes pay dividends
Just past the hour mark, Martinez Losa made his first changes. Lana Clelland and Thomas replaced Ross and Hanson, and the two soon made their mark.
The substitutes combined to open the home side up when Thomas slipped an Emslie pass through three defenders and into the path of Clelland, but she was unable to add to her four international goals.
But moments later Thomas won a corner kick after outpacing her marker down the right, then was in the right place at the right time to meet the set-piece from Emslie and guide it into the net for the second goal.
Then Thomas turned provider again, knocking a ball through to Clelland who fired straight at the goalkeeper. It was 2-0 but it could have been more within 15 minutes of the pair’s arrivals.
However, both were guilty of passing up chances they should have finished. Towards the end both had the ball at their feet inside the box with just the goalkeeper to beat, but were denied each time.
Work still to do
The question posed was could Scotland find more joy in the final third than they had under Kerr and McLaren.
The early signs are Scotland still have work to do to find the right combination. The three points was the most important thing, and another three against the Faroes should be a given. And, Martinez Losa had not even had a friendly to experiment.
Little’s retirement moved him to plan B, while the subsequent call-offs dropped him down to a plan C.
Anyone’s Game player of the match
Thomas certainly helped changed the game with her introduction, but Claire Emslie put in a number of good crosses throughout the 90 minutes despite often being isolated from the action.
What happens next?
Scotland do not lack star players, even without Kim Little who has now retired from international football at the age of 31.
But, the issue is how to incorporate all these players into a system that works for everyone.
Caroline Weir withdrew from the squad, but would expect to return to midfield. Can Martinez Losa get the best out of both her and Cuthbert?
Cuthbert has been used as a forward in a front two, and on the left of a front three, with Weir playing in the number 10 role. Cuthbert has also occupied the No.10 with Weir sat deeper in midfield. On the evidence on where Grimshaw lined up for Scotland, that would suggest Martinez Losa is thinking the same, but it is only one game with Weir the notable absentee, so time will tell.
Lucy Graham, Emma Mitchell, Hayley Lauder, Lisa Evans and Christie Murray could also command a place. Fiona Brown will be absent for some time after her third ACL injury.
But Thomas’ second half introduction will have given the manager food for thought. Her movement proved a nightmare for the Hungarian defence and finally started to open up the gaps that Scotland had struggled to create.
Clelland too was getting into the right positions and three times had opportunities within the box, but her lack of killer instinct when prevented with those chances will frustrate the Serie A star.
We’re free this year
Anyone’s Game will be free this season with no paywall, but you can still subscribe for free to ensure you never miss any of our content during the campaign.