Oh, Scotland. As on Saturday, the relief seems as pronounced as the joy.
Another late goal scored with the last touch from a player’s midriff – after an excruciating wait for VAR to decide whether the ball had hit Lyndon Dykes’ hand – saw Steve Clarke’s side secure another important win and create some history in the process. This was a mighty difficult 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Torshavn.
This is the first time Scotland have won four successive World Cup qualifiers in the same campaign. That’s what the record books will show which is just as well, because the performance itself does not withstand much scrutiny. In truth, the hosts might well have won. They certainly did not deserve to lose.
If there is someone to try and emulate, then the team riding high at the top of Group F are a sensible choice to take inspiration from. Denmark secured three points here last month with a late winner four minutes from the end. If it’s good enough for the Danes, who are now Qatar-bound, then it’s good enough for Scotland, who stand one win away from securing a play-off place.
Next month’s clash with Moldova could be decisive but the Scots will have to try and win there without Dykes, who scored for the fourth successive game. He was booked and is now suspended, as is Ryan Christie.
Attention will soon turn to Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. But if it’s Tuesday, it must be Torshavn. T also stood for torturous. Certainly this was true on the evidence of the first-half, when Scotland were fortunate not to concede at least a couple of goals. It didn’t get much better in the second-half either.
Clarke had made all the right noises beforehand. This was the players’ next cup final, he warned. The manager stressed that they had been made well aware of the need to be just as alert as against Israel on Saturday.
The thing is they were not always alert in that win, and so it proved here. Had the hosts had someone like Eran Zahavi in their ranks, this might have been historic for all the wrong reasons.
The Faroes have improved markedly since the days of them being considered among the lesser of lesser lights and when even drawing with what one Scottish sportswriter once described as “essentially a parish team” was considered a national calamity.
They are no longer anywhere near to the worst teams in the world. They now play in a reasonably new, compact and well-maintained stadium with an artificial pitch that is a world away from the rutted surface in Toftir where Scotland have had such problems in the past.
All this has to be acknowledged. As, too, must Denmark’s struggles here last month, although theirs was a much-changed side.
Scotland made only three changes to the team that claimed that dramatic win over Israel on Saturday. Grant Hanley returned to the defence although any hopes this might solve the lapses that well have cost Clarke’s side dear at Hampden at the weekend seemed slim on the basis of the worrying first 45 minutes.
The fans who had made the journey to the islands were entitled to ask what on earth was going on. They peered through the misty rain and tried to work out exactly who was who. On the evidence of chances created, surely Scotland were playing in the white shirts and the Faroes in blue. Sadly not. The expectation was that the Faroes players might tire. They did not.
Dangerous crosses with both his left and right foot in the opening minutes from Christie seemed to anticipate a straightforward night for the visitors.
It got seriously worrying very quickly after that. The hosts should have opened the scoring after five minutes when Joan Edmundsson miskicked in front of goal after being surprised by teammate Gilli Rolantsson’s flick – the latter might have been better served by taking the shot.
A long punt from goalkeeper Teitur Gestsson that was missed by Hanley then provided Ari Mohr Jonsson with the opportunity to shoot. Craig Gordon saved Scotland with a fine block and then Vijormur Davidsen saw his shot cleared.
It was not too much of an exaggeration to say that Scotland were on the ropes. Home skipper Brandur Hendriksson – who plays his club football at Helsingborgs in Sweden, and was the best player on the park in the opening half – then slung in a cross that was begging to be headed into the net. Defender Sonni Nattestad met it well on the edge of the six-yard box but could only direct the ball over the bar.
It was another let-off for Scotland and there was still time for one more before half-time when defender Odmar Faero’s shot was deflected just wide by Hanley.
Scotland’s attempts to score at the other end were restricted to a shot from a tight angle from McTominay that was blocked at his near post by Gestsson and a cut-back from Christie cutback that Nattestad did well to cut out before Dykes could pounce.
The Scots were denied a penalty shortly after half-time – a VAR check confirmed Heini Vatnsdal’s challenge on the edge of the box was an illegal one but it also clearly revealed that Christie had been just off-side moments earlier.
Clarke’s side could hardly say they deserved any fortune. Newcastle United’s Ryan Fraser, brought in at right wing back for Nathan Patterson, looked like a player who had not played only half-an-hour of football for his club side in recent weeks.
He did provide the cross from which Scotland should have taken an undeserved lead with 11 minutes left. John McGinn’s header, however, was too straight at Gestsson.
Billy Gilmour then sent a shot just the wrong side of the ‘keeper’s right-hand post. Fortunately Patterson did get on the pitch, as a replacement for Fraser, and his cross proved pivotal. The ball struck substitute Hordur Askham as he attempted to clear before deflecting into the net off Dykes.
An interminable wait followed as the officials checked for handball but it is nothing compared to a near 24-year absence from the World Cup. Scotland’s hopes of doing something about this remain intact.