It may be Halloween when the Netherlands come to Glasgow on Tuesday, but Scotland Women can’t afford to be spooked by their Dutch opponents.
Scotland host the Netherlands at Hampden in the Uefa Nations League and could be haunted by the ghosts of their 4-0 defeat to the same opponents in Nijmegen on Friday night.
The search for a first Nations League win continues for Scotland and it feels like it has to happen against the Dutch on Tuesday – otherwise it puts an abundance of pressure on the final group games in December, when Scotland play England and Belgium.
It won’t be game-over if they fail to beat the Netherlands on Halloween, but we must hope there are more treats than tricks to keep Scotland’s Nations League hopes afloat.
The Nations League campaign plays an important role in qualification for the European Championships in 2025.
It is importance probably weighs heavier for Scotland, who have failed to qualify via the regular route for the last two major tournaments: the delayed 2021 Euros and 2023 World Cup.
Scotland must stay in League A, if they are to benefit from a more favourable avenue towards qualifying and returning to the Euros.
Midfield questions still unanswered?
There were big questions ahead of the eventual 4-0 defeat in the Netherlands on Friday and plenty remain unanswered after the underwhelming 90 minutes.
The midfield was the biggest talking point of all with – in normal circumstances – guaranteed starters Sam Kerr, Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert all absent due to injury.
It left Pedro Martinez Losa with a terribly unfair headache, as who might replace the somewhat irreplaceable?
The Spaniard opted for a midfield three of Christy Grimshaw – who is from Stonehaven – 18-year-old Kirsty MacLean and Amy Rodgers, with the latter two making their first starts for Scotland.
The three who started made sense given the absentees, but it was Martinez Losa’s substitutes at half-time which left even more questions.
Rangers youngster MacLean, who has adopted the nickname Wee Ini in homage to Spanish midfield maestro Andres Iniesta, was hooked at half-time.
As was winger Claire Emslie, despite being a rare bright spark in the opening half.
Both players had not really put a foot wrong and replacing them with Lisa Evans and Fiona Brown did not pay off as the Netherlands were able to exploit those areas after the interval.
Following the defeat, Martinez Losa has an even bigger headache ahead of the Hampden rematch.
Jenna Clark deserving of a chance from the start at Hampden
Another weak spot against the Dutch was Scotland’s defence, and all four goals came from defensive errors where the players concerned should have done better.
Sophie Howard was the hero at Hampden last month after netting a last-minute equaliser against Belgium, but the centre-back was unfortunately caught up in three of the goals in Nijmegen.
The first goal saw Danielle van de Donk lose her marker – Howard – far too easily as she tapped the ball home at the near post.
For the second, Howard’s poor clearance from a Jill Roord effort could only reach promising talent Esmee Brugts, who made no mistake in firing the rebounded chance in the back of the net from 12 yards out.
And for the third, Howard was caught too far out of position, leaving skipper Rachel Corsie with the difficult task to catch Lineth Beerensteyn after a long ball forward – and the Dutch forward finished the move off with a lob to make it 3-0.
There is a young centre-back, Jenna Clark, waiting in the wings who has started her first season in the FA WSL with new club Liverpool to high praise.
The former Glasgow City defender has impressed since moving south putting in player-of-the-match performances and a WSL player-of-the-month nomination for October.
She came on as a 81st-minute substitute against the Netherlands and there were glimpses of what she can offer even in the cameo appearance.
Clark returns to the squad this camp after captaining the under-23s last month, and I have previously thought she was not quite ready for a regular place in the senior starting XI.
But something needs to change, and Clark, 22, has certainly shown in recent times she has improved and can mix it against some of the best there is.
On her competitive debut, at an Emirates stadium packed with more than 54,000 fans, Clark was hailed for her display as Liverpool secured a shock 1-0 win over Arsenal.
It does not feel like a gamble, or trial and error, to put Clark in from the start – to me, it feels like fixing something that looks broken and using what you have at your disposal to do that.
The Netherlands are a top side, so to take points from them is always going to be a difficult ask, but I do feel Scotland have the capability to do so.
If Scotland are to stay in contention in League A they must be much improved from Friday night’s defeat – or it could end up being a fright night for those in dark blue.