All the ingredients were there. All the ingredients, that is, for bone-crushing, soul-sapping disappointment. Scotland flirted with catastrophe. At times, it seems, they lured it. But they are getting more proficient at ripping up scripts.
This was a hectic, ultimately glorious night at Hampden, one which had Sir Alex Ferguson on his feet applauding at the end. Manchester United’s Scott McTominay’s late, late winner stirred memories of a certain Champions League final in Barcelona. Talk about Fergie-time.
The current Old Trafford manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer memorably pounced on a knocked-on corner in injury-time - as McTominay did here - to send Ferguson running onto the field of play.
The legendary former manager was restricted to a half-time appearance on the pitch on this occasion as he picked up a long-awaited Scotland cap from a series of upgraded world tour games in 1967.
But he will have enjoyed McTominay’s late intervention as much as anyone. John McGinn took a corner four minutes into time added on, Jack Hendry knocked it on and McTominay was in the right place at the right time to deflect the ball over the line. It was the ugliest but timeliest of goals.
Scotland’s luck appears to be changing although this was about more than just fortune. It was about fortitude and sticking to the plan. It was about forgetting setbacks and putting shoulders to the wheel. Steve Clarke’s side are now two wins against the Faroes and Moldova away from securing a World Cup finals play-off place.
Lyndon Dykes shrugged off a first-half penalty that was saved by Ofir Marciano to equalise with a flying studs-up volley that Polish referee Szymon Marciniak reviewed on the VAR monitor for evidence of foul play while Ofri Arad lay on the ground receiving treatment. Dykes is the first Scotland player to score in three consecutive matches since Mo Johnston in the late 1980s.
A personal duel developed between Dykes and Marciano, once of Livingston and Hibs, now of Queens Park Rangers and Feyenoord.
The ‘keeper saved from a Dykes header that should have given Scotland the lead shortly after the hour mark. Marciano’s block from a point-blank McGinn effort with two minutes remaining left the sold-out crowd particularly deflated, quickly ruining the thrill of seeing the linesman on the near-side touchline slip over moments beforehand.
Ferguson sat front and centre of the VIP area and belted out Flower of Scotland with as much gusto as anyone. It felt like a special occasion. It was a special occasion.
This was old school, football in the raw. From the jeering of the Israel national anthem to the booing of players as they lay injured, which was the case often with the visitors.
Niceties were for another time, perhaps the next meeting between these side, hopefully sometime on the other side of never. Familiarity breeds contempt.
The We’ve Met Before feature in the match programme could have taken up half the edition had they spun it out. For space reasons, presumably, they restricted the review to just one of six recent past meetings – a 3-2 win for Scotland in 2018, when James Forrest struck a hat-trick.
The game was just over half an hour old when the realisation struck that Scotland would have to score three times – at least – to earn the three points they craved. Somehow they did it, with seconds to spare.
On the occasion of a must-win international football match, when the stakes could barely be higher, it really doesn’t do to lose the first goal inside five minutes. Nor does it do to concede another goal less than a minute after equalising before, almost unbelievably, missing a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
There was no surprise about the identity of the player who first speared the hosts. Eran Zahavi was the victim of a needless foul by Hendry 25 yards from goal. The prolific striker picked himself up and struck the free-kick past Craig Gordon, whose efforts to block the effort were not helped by the ball taking a nick off Hendry’s shoulder.
It was Zahavi’s 26th goal in his last 29 international appearances, and his third against Scotland.
He could so easily have had a fourth later but Gordon did well to save his header. So much could easily have happened and didn’t on a breathless evening at Hampden. Incessant rain gave away to clear Autumn skies at some point in the proceedings. Few noticed when.
What was happening on the pitch was too compelling, too heart-stopping, particularly when Scotland produced an equaliser after 30 minutes from the move of the game. Kieran Tierney roamed forward before laying the ball off for Andy Robertson, who decisively and effectively drove inwards and exchanged a one-two with Che Adams prior to setting up McGinn. The Aston Villa man took a touch before lifting a shot beyond Marciano.
“We’ve got McGinn, super John McGinn!” was still reverberating around a jubilant Hampden when Munas Dubbur ensured the words stuck in several thousand throats.
Scotland conceded yet another poor free-kick after McTominay’s foul on Manor Solomon. Skipper Bibras Natcho lifted the ball into the box and a combination of Lyad Abu Abaid’s header and McTominay's effort to clear saw the ball spin towards Gordon. He did well to keep it out but could do little about Dubbur, who was on hand to steer the rebound in.
It seemed almost criminal. Two set-pieces, two goals, the second seconds after Scotland had got back on level terms with such a well-crafted equaliser.
Then some hope. Natcho took leave of his senses and lunged into Billy Gilmour on the edge of the box to concede a 44th minute penalty.
Dykes somewhat unwisely elected to replicate his spot-kick that squeezed into the net against Austria last month. Luck was not on Scotland’s side this time. The ball struck Marciano’s trailing boot and looped back into play.
The half drew to a close in near silence. It was fortunate Ferguson had been booked to receive a long-awaited Scotland cap during the interval after four appearances against Australia and Israel 54 years ago were upgraded to full internationals.
Spirits lifted as he took the acclaim of the crowd. But no-one, not even this knight of the realm who has seen it all in football, could have predicted what followed.