Fletcher lifts Scots before World Cup campaign

Scotland 4 Trinidad & Tobago 1
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The Independent Football

Sunshine on Leith yesterday found Scotland proclaiming their potential to challenge Italy, Norway and Slovenia when the World Cup qualifying campaign starts in September. Against an admittedly poor Trinidad & Tobago team, the Manchester United prodigy, Darren Fletcher, inspired them to their biggest win under Berti Vogts' management.

The calypso football, such as it was, came from Scotland during a first half in which they led the 'Soca Warriors' 4-0 with barely a third of this friendly played. Fletcher, strutting the Easter Road stage just eight miles from his home in the former mining community of Dalkeith, opened the scoring in style and made all the remaining three goals.

Vogts, who many observers had not expected to reach the end of the season with Scotland after the drubbings by the Netherlands and Wales, drooled about the "fantastic entertainment, the movement, the passing". Acknowledging a supremely assured display by the 20-year-old Fletcher, he added: "Darren is one of the biggest talents in Europe."

Cynics suggested Vogts had arranged end-of-term fixtures with Estonia and Trinidad so that Scotland might reacquaint themselves with the concept of winning. If so, the ploy worked, although the poverty of the opposition here should stop anyone from becoming carried away.

Vogts blooded two more players in Jamie McAllister and Craig Gordon. That took the number he has used in two and a half years to 62, of which 37 have been new caps. Gordon started nervously, almost conceding an own goal as he miscontrolled Malky Mackay's back-pass.

By then, however, Scotland already led with a goal as ruthlessly executed as it was cleverly set up. James McFadden used his upper-body strength to hold off Marvin Andrews before back-heeling the ball to Fletcher. A drive of laser precision brought his second international goal.

Trinidad appeared unwilling or unable to pick up Fletcher, who moved into space with ease and displayed an air of nonchalance to his passing. His right-wing cross created the second goal, bravely headed in by Gary Holt when Clayton Ince hesitated before belatedly bundling into him.

Ince was badly at fault for the third goal. Fletcher's corner offered a routine catch, but he let the ball reach the far post. Gary Caldwell, a Hibs man on home turf, scored with a sharp downward header.

An exquisite pass by Fletcher led to a fourth goal before half-time. Its target, Stevie Crawford, put in a shot which cannoned off Ince's legs to Nigel Quashie 20 yards out. The Londoner side-footed into the unguarded net, prompting a chorus of "You're not English any more" from the Tartan Army.

Trinidad, who stand only 12 places behind Scotland at 75th in Fifa's world rankings, drew upon clubs in China, the United States, Scotland, Wales and England. They had beaten Iraq 2-0 at West Bromwich a week earlier, yet their performance was more collapso than calypso.

When they finally mustered a shot, 10 minutes into the second half, they scored. Stern John thrashed the ball beyond Gordon following a pass by Carlos Edwards, although Mackay complained angrily that the Birmingham striker had tripped him during the build-up.

Quashie, who was unexpectedly adopted as a cult figure by the fans, showed skill and tenacity to suggest he and Fletcher could form a useful partnership. Gordon, too, recovered from his earlier lapse, saving well from John, Andre Boucaud and Kerwyn Jemmot to protect the Scots' most emphatic winning margin since they beat San Marino 4-0 in 2001.

The only sour note came when McFadden used a post-match interview with Sky to berate the pundit and former Scotland player Charlie Nicholas, a consistent critic of Vogts. He was pulled away by a Scottish FA official, no doubt mindful that the channel have paid £27m to cover their World Cup games, but no other player would speak to the station.

Goals: Fletcher (6) 1-0; Holt (14) 2-0; G Caldwell (23) 3-0; Quashie (34) 4-0; John (55) 4-1.

Scotland (4-4-2): Gordon; McNamara, Pressley, Mackay (McNamee, 85), McAllister; Quashie (Hughes, 72), G Caldwell (S Caldwell, 79), Fletcher, Holt (Kerr, 54); McFadden (Webster, 85), Crawford (Miller, 68). Substitutes not used: Gallacher, McCulloch, Shearer.

Trinidad & Tobago (3-5-2): Ince; Sancho, Cox, Andrews; Edwards (Theobald, 90), Dwarika (Nixon, 74), Eve (Jemmot, 81), Jones (Rojas, 45), Mason; Glen (Boucaud, 30), John. Substitutes not used: King, Baptiste, Williams.

Referee: P Vink (Netherlands).

Attendance: 16,187.

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