Scotland’s final match in their European Championship qualifying campaign had that familiar feeling of the morning after the night before despite Gordon Strachan’s side ending their campaign with a 6-0 victory.
Failure to take the campaign to last qualifier made for an anticlimactic ending to what has become the biennial feeling of disappointment for Scotland supporters.
Despite the improvement made under Strachan, whose contribution was recognised by the Tartan Army support which chanted his name during the game, the list of tournaments missed by the Tartan Army now stands at nine – 18 years come 2016.
There has been progress for sure, but not quite enough to end the ever increasing absence and if Strachan does decide to continue in the role he is going to have to find further improvement.
Assessing potential new players who can give more than the regulars is the first step which is why he made seven changes to the side which drew 2-2 with Poland on Thursday for the final game of the campaign in Portugal.
Among the changes was a rare start for Derby County forward Chris Martin, who partnered Steven Fletcher in attack.
Allan McGregor also returned in goal in place of David Marshall.
There was nothing but pride at stake in the Estadio Algarve but the Scotland manager was determined to end the campaign on a positive note against the international minnows in front of the large travelling Scottish support.
Facing a country without a home stadium in Gibraltar and with the pressure of trying to qualify gone, the outcome of this match was never in doubt and Scotland quickly pushed their opponents back as they pushed for an early opening goal.
Fletcher fired over the crossbar before Gibraltar goalkeeper Jamie Robba saved Shaun Maloney’s shot another effort from Sunderland attacker Fletcher.
Much of the Scottish attacking threat came down the left, with Hull’s Andy Robertson heavily involved but when the breakthrough finally came in the 24th minute it was a set piece which broke the home team’s resistance.
Maloney saw his header from an Andy Ritchie cross turned away for a corner by Robba but the resulting delivery was flicked on by Gordon Greer for Martin, who had the easy task of knocking the ball across the line for his first international goal.
The goals should have flowed following the breakthrough as Scotland surged forward. Fletcher hit the post with a strike from a Martin cutback but the second came six minutes before the break when the ball broke to Maloney and he beat Robba with a clever, curling ball.
Having got the crucial second goal, Scotland pulled Gibraltar from left to right in the second half and it took just seven minutes to add a third as Fletcher rose to head Alan Hutton’s cross from the byeline home.
He needed only four minutes to add his second of the game, guiding the ball past Robba in off his right post.
With Scotland four goals to the good Strachan brought on Johnny Russell and Darren Fletcher, adding fresh impetus to what had already become a total mismatch on the pitch.
Russell’s pace added another threat to an already overwhelming Scottish attack and the former Dundee United forward should have scored when he found himself in space in the box but he fired over the crossbar.
With former Hibernian forward Fletcher chasing his second hat-trick against Gibraltar in the campaign the Scots he resorted to acrobatics in an effort for a third goal but his overhead kick from 14 yards was well over the crossbar.
At the other end Scotland goalkeeper McGregor could have brought his deckchair, such was the scarcity of an attacking threat towards his goal from the home side.
It was not hard to see why Gibraltar ended the campaign having failed to score a home goal.
The waves of white pressure towards Robba’s goal continued in the closing stages with Russell seeing his shot saved but Fletcher was not to be denied his treble and he saved the best for last, turning on the edge of the box to fire a superb rising shot past the Gibraltar goalkeeper five minutes from time.
His strike ensured he became the first Scotland player to score a hat-trick away from home since Aberdonian Denis Law managed the feat against Norway in 1963.
There was still time for more chances to add to the tally but Robba denied Russell from getting in on the act when he blocked the forward’s close range effort but substitute Steven Naismith completed the scoring when he fired home the sixth in the final minute.