It was the kind of night on which assets were always going to be prone to freezing, and on which a dish of revenge might be best served.
As the snow and the mercury dropped in Scotland’s national stadium, the red hot talents of Gareth Bale were cooled and suspended halfway through this bitterly cold British derby of a Group A World Cup qualifier.
The stellar Spurs player sat out the second half with an injured right ankle, but his assailant was denied the role of match winner for a Scotland side seeking vengeance for the ill fate they suffered at the hands of the assistant referee and the feet of Bale in Cardiff five months ago.
Two goals in three minutes in the final quarter – a penalty by Aaron Ramsey, who was sent off in the last minute for pulling back James McArthur, and a header by Hal Robson-Kanu – left Scotland out in the cold again.
Bale had been a doubtful starter all week because of a virus and the ankle problem that Grant Hanley clearly aggravated with a challenge bordering on the agricultural variety.
It just so happened that, wholly against the run of play, Hanley headed the goal in that looked like deciding the contest. It came in time that was added on at the end of the first half partly to allow Bale to have treatment. All of which would have added up to a successful revenge mission for the Scots – who had a perfectly valid “second goal” wrongly disallowed in the away fixture before losing 2-1 – had they not been struck by another late one-two.
It was, of course, Bale’s late bolt from the blue yonder that won the reverse fixture for Wales at the Millennium Stadium in October – and ultimately cost Craig Levein his job. Last night’s return encounter was Gordon Strachan’s first competitive test as the new coach at the Scottish helm and, following last month’s friendly win against Estonia in Aberdeen, the former Celtic manager brought in Blackburn’s Hanley to partner Gary Caldwell at the centre of defence
His charges did not exactly get off to the best of starts. With snow swirling around the arena, a spot of defensive dithering presented Ramsey with a first-minute chance, a shot from the right edge of the home area that was blocked by Hanley.
That was followed soon after by the sight of Steven Fletcher lying stricken on the turf, the Sunderland striker having twisted awkwardly on the grass while challenging Ben Davies for a header. After prolonged treatment, Fletcher departed on a stretcher – a big concern for manager Martin O’Neill, with goals and points in shortage and the threat of relegation looming on Wearside.
Of more immediate concern to Fletcher’s national team manager, who sent on Kenny Miller as a replacement, was the fact that Wales proceeded to push the ball around the lush Hampden turf with all the ease of Real Madrid in these parts circa 1960.
On one of the rare occasions when the Scots managed to break out of their own half, winger Robert Snodgrass was booked for a lunging challenge on Chris Gunter.
Bale, for all of the pre-match concerns about his state of health and fitness, could afford to engage neutral and still dictate much of the play in his roving attacking midfield role. He, too, had a shot blocked by Hanley, who was not exactly having the best of times on his first start for his country in a competitive fixture.
There was a flash of encouragement for the shivering Tartan Army midway through the first half, Chris Burke jinking clear down the right and delivering a fine cross to the far post, where Miller rose top plant a header a couple of feet over Boaz Myhill’s bar. Still, Wales continued to dominate and ought to have edged in front when Robson-Kanu found himself in space on the left side of the home box, only to fail to feed the itching feet of Craig Bellamy on the six yard line.
Having survived that scare, Scotland started to spread their wings. Snodgrass despatched a cross from the left that Miller headed over and then Burke clipped an inviting low ball from the other flank that none of his colleagues were able to accept.
Nonetheless, it came as a shock to all except the home camp when Scotland snatched the lead in first-half injury time. Having received a warning for a robust challenge that left Bale needing treatment, Hanley turned from villain to hero in a flash, heading home a right wing corner by Charlie Mulgrew.
It took Wales until the 71st minute to fully regain their poise but first Ramsey equalised from the penalty spot after the Arsenal man had been felled by Snodgrass, who received a second yellow card. Then, three minutes later, substitute Andy King crossed from the right and Robson-Kanu applied the winning touch with his head.
Booked: Scotland Snodgrass (twice), Miller, Hanley. Wales Robson-Kanu, Ramsey.
Sent off: Scotland Snodgrass (71). Wales Ramsey (90).
Man of the match Ramsey.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Scotland 42%. Wales 58%.
Attempts on target: Scotland 3. Wales 10.
Referee A Gautier (Fr).