A STOPPAGE-TIME equaliser prevented Scotland from claiming the notable scalp of African champions Nigeria but they still produced further encouraging evidence of their progress under Gordon Strachan.
Scorers: Nigeria - Uchebo (41), Nwofor (90): Scotland - Mulgrew (10), Egwuekwe (52og)
In a thoroughly absorbing challenge match in West London, substitute Uche Nwofor salvaged a draw for the Nigerians, who had trailed twice to Charlie Mulgrew’s audacious opener and an own goal from Azubike Egwuekwe.
If the result was not as rewarding as it might have been, the performance provided plenty of positives for Strachan. The Scots are now unbeaten in the last six matches, the first time in seven years they have achieved that sequence, and will reconvene in good heart for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign which begins in September.
With both teams backed by exuberant and extremely vocal sets of supporters, there was certainly no end-of-season feel to the occasion in terms of atmosphere. That was replicated on the pitch where there was no lack of intensity from the outset.
The Nigerians, approaching coach Stephen Keshi’s deadline when he must cut seven of them from his provisional 30-man World Cup finals squad, were understandably motivated to impress. But the Scots, who will be watching the action in Brazil while on holiday, were every bit as keen to maintain the encouraging momentum they have gathered under Strachan’s stewardship.
They made a bright and positive start which almost brought them the opener in only the fourth minute. Ikechi Anya, jeered by some of the Nigerian fans because of his decision to play for Scotland rather than await the call from the land of his father’s birth, raced into space behind the back four as he latched onto James Morrison’s cross-field pass.
Anya struck a left-foot shot from a tight angle beyond goalkeeper Austine Ejide and the ball deflected off the heel of back-tracking defender Kunle Odunlami before striking the post and going behind. A mistake from Alan Hutton presented Nigeria with their first clear opening of the fairly breathless early stages. Michael Uchebo pounced on the right-back’s under-hit back pass but struck his shot straight at Allan McGregor who made a comfortable save.
Scotland’s tenth-minute breakthrough came from the combination of a well-worked corner kick routine and a marvellous piece of innovation from Mulgrew. Shaun Maloney and Anya shuttled the ball into Morrison’s path from the set piece on the left and the West Bromwich Albion midfielder had space to drive in a right-foot shot.
It looked less than threatening but Mulgrew, with his back to goal, diverted the ball with a deft flick of his left boot and sent it spinning beyond the helpless Ejide from around ten yards. Scotland produced some pleasing possession football as they tried to increase their lead, only being let down by a poor final ball on a couple of occasions when they had stretched a vulnerable-looking Nigerian defence.
Mulgrew’s foul on Elderson handed Nigeria a promising free-kick opportunity around 25 yards out but Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi’s effort drifted off target.
Dundee United left-back Andrew Robertson, handed his first starting appearance after making his debut as a substitute in the victory over Poland in Warsaw two months earlier, caught the eye with some adventurous and effective surges forward in support of Anya.
One powerful run from the 20-year-old saw him cut inside to set up an opening for Maloney, who drove a 20-yard shot over the top. Scotland continued to threaten and were denied a second goal in mildly contentious circumstances in the 32nd minute. Grant Hanley rose well to meet a Maloney corner and headed the ball beyond the unconvincing Ejide who merely helped it on its way to the net. But Scotland’s celebrations were abruptly curtailed when referee Lee Probert penalised Hanley for a foul on the keeper which was certainly in the ‘soft’ category.
Nigeria finished the first half strongly and the warning signs were there for Scotland when Ameobi volleyed Ejike Uzoenyi’s cross straight into the arms of McGregor. The Hull City keeper, starting the game ahead of David Marshall, could do nothing about Nigeria’s equaliser four minutes before the interval. Uchebo was allowed to advance unchallenged midway inside the Scotland half and before Gordon Greer could close him down, the Belgian-based striker drove in a shot which deflected off the back of Hanley and sent the ball beyond McGregor.
Nigeria threatened to take the lead four minutes into the second half when another slack pass from Hutton presented Ameobi with a clear shooting opportunity but his effort was kept out by the left boot of the alert McGregor.
Scotland made the most of that let-off as they regained the advantage in the 52nd minute. Hutton atoned for his earlier slip when he played a smart exchange of passes with Scott Brown and powered his way to the right byeline. He hammered over a low cross which Nigerian defender Azubuike Egwuekwe and Morrison challenged for in the six-yard box.
The ball spun towards goal and was over the line before Odunlami’s desperate attempt to clear it merely helped it hit the back of the net. The muted nature of Morrison during the Scots’ celebrations appeared to confirm it had been an own goal.
Strachan had introduced Chris Martin in place of Steven Naismith at the start of the second half and the Derby County striker settled to the task well on his debut. He almost marked it with a goal in the 67th minute, receiving a pass from fellow substitute George Boyd and having a low shot saved by Ejide diving to his right.
A raft of late substitutions broke up the flow of the contest in the closing stages but one of Nigeria’s replacements, Nwofor, grabbed the late equaliser when he seized on Hanley’s error to drive an angled shot beyond McGregor from close range.
Nigeria: Ejide, Yobo, Elderson, Egwuekwe, Odunlami (Ambrose 75), Obi (Igiebor, 54), Uzoenyi (Moses 62), Gabriel, Babatunde (Oduamadi 66), Ameobi (Nwofor 61), Uchebo (Odemwingie 54). Subs not used: Agbim, Oshaniwa, Oboabona, Azeez, Akpeyi.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Greer, Hanley, Robertson (Forsyth 76), Brown, Morrison (Boyd 63), Mulgrew, Anya (Whittaker 84), Maloney, Naismith (Martin 46). Subs not used: Marshall, Burke, Bannan, Berra, Griffiths, Bryson, Gilks, McCormack, Pawlett, Reynolds.
Referee: L Probert