HEARTS pair Kevin McHattie and Callum Tapping both started as a new-look Scotland Under-21 side completed their preparations for the 2015 European Championships qualifiers with a credible 1-1 draw away to Greece yesterday.
The young Scots fought back from a goal down in Korinthos to level through Celtic striker Tony Watt’s second-half penalty. The result will be used as a stepping stone, as the Scots now aim to bounce back from their failure to qualify for this year’s finals in Israel by reaching the next tournament, which will be staged in the Czech Republic in two years’ time.
The team have been drawn against Holland for the second qualifying campaign running and will also have to overcome Luxembourg, Slovakia and Georgia when their Group Three bid begins next month.
Stark handed debuts to Partick Thistle midfielder Stuart Bannigan as well as Tapping, with Stuart Armstrong of Dundee United taking the captain’s armband.
The Scots almost got off to a flying start as first Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Rhys McCabe was denied just five minutes in by Greek goalkeeper Andreas Gianniotis, while Fraser Kerr failed to bury a header soon after. The visitors were made to pay for those misses when they fell behind after 13 minutes as the Greeks struck first in front of a 4000-strong crowd.
FC Amkar Perm striker Nikos Karelis got himself in between Falkirk right-back Kieran Duffie and Motherwell defender Kerr at the back post to head the home side in front from Everton forward Apostolos Vellios’ cross. Despite their early dominance, Greece failed to add to their lead as Blackpool keeper Chris Kettings twice saved from Vellios to leave the deficit at just one goal at the break.
But with 13 minutes of the second period gone, Watt struck his fourth goal in six games for the Under-21s with his spot-kick success.
Kilmarnock teenager Rory McKenzie had been bundled over in the area by Charalambos Lykogiannis and Watt made no mistake from 12 yards as he sent substitute keeper Stefanos Kapino the wrong way.
And yet the hosts still had chances to win it. First Costas Triandafillopoulos put a header wide from 12 yards, before Kettings parried again from Giannis Gianniotas and then Panagiotis Ballas. Then on 69 minutes, Dimitris Kolovos put another strike straight into the on-form keeper’s arms.