How Scotland held on heroically in Viennese waltz to breathe new life into World Cup campaign

Only Scotland can be awarded a first-half penalty and still feel hard done-by. Mercifully, this didn't matter in the end. Not when they still managed to get back on the dancefloor in Vienna with perhaps the Scottish male team’s finest away win since a certain 1-0 scalp in Paris.

Lyndon Dykes fires home Scotland's penalty in Vienna.
Lyndon Dykes fires home Scotland's penalty in Vienna.

Unlike then, the trick is now to build on it. They cannot afford any slip-ups of the sort suffered then– a trip to the Faroe Isles next month suddenly seems a fearful prospect. A home clash with Israel before that journey could solidify Steve Clarke’s side’s second place position in Group F.

This spot was earned thanks to Lyndon Dykes’ first-half penalty on a remarkable evening in the Ernst Happel stadion when nothing came easy for the Scots.

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They should have been up against ten men for an hour. Somehow Eintracht Frankfurt defender Martin Hinteregger avoided a second yellow – he was booked for an appalling late challenge on Callum McGregor minutes earlier – after he hauled Che Adams to the ground in the box. It wasn’t as if referee Georgi Kabakov did not have the opportunity to look at it again. He only gave the penalty after reviewing the incident on the pitchside monitor as VAR intervened to Scotland' s great benefit.

Dykes' penalty burrowed under Austrian keeper Daniel Bachmann.

The referee belatedly pointed to the spot though no red card emerged from his top pocket. Scotland would still have to do it the hard way – against 11 men. But at least they are dead-eyed when it comes to penalties these days. They just don't miss them. Dykes’ finish was emphatic.

Where do you begin with what happened afterwards? Wherever it is, you make sure Stephen O’Donnell features high up in the mentions. He was immense again. Nathan Patterson might have to up his game still further if he wants to secure the right wingback berth.

And then there’s Craig Gordon, diving to his right on his 60th cap and at age 38 to beat out a near-point blank header from Christian Baumgartner with 11 minutes left.

It was this point that the Scots truly sensed something special with within grasp. Austria, after a blazing start, were disappointing. They deserve to be out of contention – or as near as damn it.

Scotland celebrate Dykes' goal.

Judging from his team selection, Steve Clarke was of a mind to try and re-capture the spirit of Wembley ’21. Nine of the ten outfield players who started on that memorable rain-drenched evening in North London were selected for a balmy early Autumn evening in the Ernst-Happel Stadion.

September in Vienna. It was a city make-or-break for Scotland. The stakes were as high as that night earlier this summer against England.

The players from Wembley ’67 might have struggled with the start made by the hosts, who made Denmark seem slow out of the starting blocks by comparison in Copenhagen last week. Scotland hung on, something they did not do in Denmark. These were hugely pivotal moments.

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Scotland reached the 15-minute mark on level terms. That was a bonus. They were 2-0 down by that point in Copenhagen, where the packed, hemmed-in stands were something else for the players to think about. Not so in the Ernst-Happel stadium, which, while impressive, is more of a Hampden-like bowl. The Scotland players were able to hear themselves think. It helped.

They even carved out a chance of their own when John McGinn’s cross from the left was headed down into the ground by Lyndon Dykes. Ex-Killie ‘keeper Daniel Bachmann beat the former Queen of the South striker’s effort away. The pair would be facing off against each other again before long.

The game was a case study in how important it is avoid being breached even when under siege. Unlike in Denmark, where Israel were being submerged by a red and white torrent, Scotland hung on – and how important that proved. Crosses came in from the left and were headed out. They came in from the right and were headed out. David Alaba delayed a shot and ended up sending his eventual effort into Hanley’s broad frame. A Marko Arnautovic effort cannoned off Jack Hendry. Baumgartner curled one round Gordon’s far post.

And then, and then. Things started to change. The Scots began to assert themselves. They took to the dancefloor in this Viennese waltz and, in the case of Dykes, almost barged Bachmann off it with a challenge that left the ‘keeper wheezing on the turf and had the judges awarding psychological points to Scotland. The striker escaped a card.

Hinteregger did not, rightly so. Indeed the centre-back’s late challenge on McGregor after 25 minutes was so wild and late he might have seen red there and then.

O’Donnell had provided the cross for the satisfying piece of action involving Dykes and the Motherwell full back was certainly plugging back into his performance at Wembley ten weeks ago – he was galloping down the right flank like a player who hadn’t played for a month and who realised his young apprentice Patterson had set down a marker in his last appearance.

O’Donnell’s use of the ball was not always on point such as when he tried a chip for McGinn – John that is, brother Paul made a substitute’s appearance later – which was cut out.

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Nevertheless, he was always purposeful, always on hand. He helped get Scotland up the park, where they needed to be to claim the victory they required and where they were when, after 29 minutes, Scotland were given more than just hope. They were given a penalty. And Scotland, remember, are good at penalties.

It was the right decision even if it had to be arrived at by VAR. The referee was invited to re-assess some grappling by Hinteregger as Che Adams sought to get into position to get a shot away.

The Eintracht Frankfurt defender had both hands on the striker at one point and was pulling at his jersey. There was only one decision. Dykes grabbed the ball and thundered it past the diving Bachmann, who felt its vapour trail below him. Scotland had just over an hour to hold on – and they did, heroically.

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