SCOTLAND’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign is up and running after a well-earned 1-0 victory against Georgia at Ibrox last night.
While a lucky own goal in the first half by Akaki Khubutia was all that separated the sides, it was the least Scotland deserved for dominating the game.
Despite passing up a series of scoring chances, which left them with a needlessly nervy conclusion to the match, Scotland played well for long spells.
Gordon Strachan, the national team manager, was especially pleased with the way his forward players combined for most of the game.
“That was a magnificent performance,” he said. “That was the best hour we’ve had as a football team since I’ve been here. You need to win, you need to get points and you imagine when you go to your bed on a Friday night ‘how are we going to get them?’ I imagine it might be hard, I imagine it might be a scrappy goal, I imagine we might have trouble breaking them down. [Our players] are capable of it but I didn’t know they could play that kind of free-flowing football with such ease and break down a good defensive side, create so many chances.”
The three points mean that Scotland head for Poland on Tuesday night full of confidence, although the Poles will also be buoyed by their shock win over Germany last night.
A narrow defeat by the Germans in the opening match of Group D is Scotland’s only loss in eight outings.
At Ibrox yesterday, Strachan decided against starting with Darren Fletcher, the Manchester United midfielder who has played just 25 minutes of football since he captained his country in Dortmund a month ago.
Scott Brown was the captain, while Shaun Maloney, whose shot led to the goal, got the nod ahead of Barry Bannan.
Strachan will now have to decide whether to stick with the same team in Warsaw. “I imagine there’ll be changes but who do you leave out? The system might change a wee bit, but not much. When you’ve players with the ability we’ve got, then you let them have their head a bit. We have to see who is fresh – Shaun doesn’t play too many games at the moment. There are a couple of lads like that, but considering he hasn’t had too many games he was absolutely phenomenal. Scott Brown was just awesome.”
Steven Naismith played behind Steven Fletcher in a partnership that produced a series of chances, but no goals. One of the most eye-catching displays was that of Alan Hutton, the right-back who seemed to enjoy playing at the ground where he spent so long with Rangers.
Temuri Ketsbaia, the Georgia manager, was pleased that his team improved as the match wore on, but he did not go so far as to suggest that they deserved a point. “Scotland had more chances. The result is fair. I won’t say that if you score this goal then we deserved to draw, or whatever from this game. Scotland played better than we played, they created enough chances, though we had some in the second half. If only we had started to play from the first minute to the 95th minute.”