Scotland did their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia no harm as they overcame a stubborn Slovakia at Hampden Park on Thursday evening.
Gordon Strachan’s men now sit in second in Group F courtesy of a late own-goal from former Liverpool defender Martin Škrtel. They only have to earn victory over Slovenia on Sunday evening to be assured a play-off berth.
Red mist descends on Hampden
It was indeed the hosts who started the better at Hampden Park and should have been ahead within the opening ten minutes. Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson played an excellent ball into the box but it just evaded a touch from Leigh Griffiths as it bounced into the arms of Martin Dúbravka.
Gordon Strachan’s men could then have earned a penalty but Tierney’s appeals following a challenge Róbert Mak were waved away. The Slovakian forward was then caught-up in more controversy as he was awarded two quick-fire yellow cards and received his marching orders. The PAOK forward was awarded his first caution for a late challenge on James Forrest and was then given his marching orders for an apparent dive in the Scotland penalty area. Referee Milorad Mazic was adamant and quickly dismissed the striker from the field.
Reaction from the visitors
Despite going down to ten men, Slovakia produced an excellent reaction. Ján Kozák’s men had a couple of chances to go ahead as Stanislav Lobotka combined well with Adam Nemec but the return was just too strong and bobbled through to Gordon. Visiting captain Marek Hamšík then had the chance to set his sights from just outside the penalty area but his shot was blocked.
Scotland pushed again though and could have been ahead had it not been for Dúbravka tipping away Griffith’s curling effort. As a result, the two went into the break level.
Drives from distance
Heading into the second period at Hampden, there really were limited opportunities. Lobotka tried from distance but his shot flew wide before Gregus was thwarted by Gordon in the home goal.
Griffiths though did again try from the edge of the area with a tricky swerving shot but it was smothered by Dúbravka. Substitute Chris Martin then nearly went one better as he crashed a thunderous drive off of the crossbar, to the relief of the visitors. Griffiths also carved out a wonderful opening for himself but ex-Liverpool defender Martin Škrtel produced an excellent last-ditch block to deny the Celtic striker.
The forward then hammered a free-kick off the bar before Dúbravka again intervened to turn James Morrison’s shot around the post after he picked a loose ball up in the Slovakia penalty area.
The hosts continued to apply the pressure on the Slovakian goal and it paid dividends in the final few minutes to send Hampden Park into pandemonium. Griffiths picked out substitute Ikechi Anya well who crossed to Derby County team-mate Chris Martin. The ball missed the burly striker but Škrtel was unfortunate to see the ball ricochet off of him and into the net as Scotland earned a late winner.
Strachan’s men continued to hold out for a considerable chunk of added time to earn a huge victory and three points in their pursuit of World Cup qualification.
Scotland were by far the better side on the night in front of a raucous Hampden Park. The hosts created plenty of opportunities to find the net but eventually got their stroke of luck with only minutes to go. They were by no doubt helped with Mak’s sending off but in the end it was a deserved victory.
They now need to beat Slovenia in order to secure their place in the play-offs and retain second position in Group F. Meanwhile, Slovakia slump to third.
Scotland: Gordon (7); Tierney (7) (Anya (7), 82′), Berra (7), Mulgrew (7), Robertson (8); Morrison (7), Fletcher (8) (McArthur (6), 79′), Bannan (7); Forrest (7) (Martin (7), 61′), Griffiths (8), Phillips (6).
Slovakia: Dúbravka (9); Pekarík (7), Škrtel (7), Ďurica (5), Hubočan (5); Kucka (6) (Gyömbér (5), 80′), Greguš (6), Hamšík (7) (Duda (6), 79′), Lobotka (5), Mak (4); Nemec (6) (Weiss (5), 79′).
Goals: Škrtel OG (89′)
Referee: Milorad Mazic
Yellow Cards: Mak (17′, 23′), Hamšík (21′), Kucka (21′), Morrison (70′)
Red Cards: Mak (23′)
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