Gordon Strachan claimed he never doubted Scotland would claim the victory they needed to keep their World Cup hopes alive – despite the dramatically late nature of the precious 1-0 win over Slovakia.
An 89th-minute own goal by Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel secured the three points for Strachan’s side to lift them into second place in Group F.
Victory against Slovenia in Ljubljana on Sunday evening will now almost certainly be enough for Scotland to progress to the qualification play-offs next month and the chance to reach next summer’s finals in Russia.
Scotland played for almost 70 minutes against 10 men after Slovakia’s Robert Mak was sent off for two bookable offences in quick succession, the second a blatant dive in a bid to win a penalty.
Strachan’s side looked destined to be frustrated in their search for a winner as both substitute Chris Martin and then Leigh Griffiths struck the crossbar and Slovakia keeper Martin Dubravka made a series of fine saves. But the impact from the bench of Martin, whose presence forced Skrtel into the late own goal, made all the difference.
“At no time did it feel really stressful,” insisted Strachan.
“I felt part of it when I was down there and I could see they had everything under control. It wasn’t a problem for them, apart from a couple of misplaced passes.
“They had a real belief in what they were trying to do. They stayed above the anxiety of the crowd. A lot of people were getting anxious. They paid for their ticket and those are the emotions you get.
“But the players did the things they wanted to do. I genuinely felt we would score, no matter what the time was.
“I always felt the goal was coming. There have been times when I haven’t. But the work they put in tonight, the way they tried to play, a goal was coming for them.
“We had to change when they had a man sent off and it took us 10 minutes to adjust to that and understand what was needed. The longer the game went, the stronger we got. We just felt it was time for Chris Martin to come on.
“We tried to play around them but we needed Chris’ power and I thought he was terrific.
“Their goalkeeper was outstanding and the crossbar wasn’t too bad either. There was a lot we can be pleased about but we just need to regroup and go again on Sunday. We have been building up to a performance like that. They deserve a performance and result like that. How many times have we had bad luck written all over it? It wasn’t about luck tonight, it was a great goalkeeper, the crossbar and eventually getting one in.
“Would I have taken second place in the group at the start of the campaign? Yeah. Because England are so far ahead of us in resources, but we showed we can compete against them at times. What we want to do now is try to finish this off – forget about the bits and bobs which went on before and carry on.”