Scotland manager Gordon Strachan saluted his players for overcoming a potential “crisis” to beat Malta and go top of their World Cup qualifying group.
It looked set to be a familiar tale of dejection when Scotland were pegged back by their lowly-ranked opponents just four minutes after taking a lead through Robert Snodgrass, who went on to score a hat-trick. Malta scored only three goals in ten qualifying games in their last campaign. But Alfred Effiong’s 14th-minute equaliser left Strachan feeling the heat in more ways than one on a humid night at the Ta’ Qali Stadium.
He later revealed he had to change his shirt. “It was stressful at one point,” he admitted. “That’s why I don’t have my shirt on. I had to change.”
Scotland took advantage of Malta being reduced to ten men when Jonathan Caruana was sent off on the hour mark after being penalised for clipping Chris Martin, who minutes earlier scored his side’s second.
Snodgrass scored the penalty and later completed his hat-trick by tapping in Steven Fletcher’s rebounded effort.
Fletcher, who came on for Martin, scored Scotland’s fourth goal from a header. Malta were reduced to nine men in time added on when Luke Gamblin was sent off for a late challenge on Snodgrass.
But Strachan did not deny his players had been affected by the expected harsh reaction at home to dropping points to Malta, as seemed possible at one point.
“Everybody had concerns,” he admitted. “We were lucky we had a bunch of lads who could deal with the stress that manifested itself because of that goal. A lot of teams have not got that. It just shows that in a crisis they can deal with it, these players. And that was a crisis at that point, at 1-1.”
“It went from everybody enjoying themselves to the Scotland fans going ‘oh oh, I’ve seen this before’ and the Malta fans thinking ‘this could be history, the night we get one of our big results’. Thankfully the players laid that to rest.
“All the nervousness round about: can you imagine if those supporters or reporters had been on there playing in that? They had to deal with that.”
Strachan praised Oliver Burke, the £13 million teenager who made his competitive debut in difficult circumstances.
“He did things that excite you and he pushes defenders back the way,” he said.
“But he’s only just turned 19 and I’m sure he’s glad he got his first competitive international cap out the way.”