Gordon Strachan praised the mental strength of his Scotland players after they survived a scare to run out 5-1 winners in a World Cup qualifying game against Malta.
A hat-trick from Robert Snodgrass, along with goals from Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher, made the final result an emphatic one for Scotland, but Strachan admitted he feared the worst after Alfred Effiong equalised for Malta early in the game.
Exactly one year ago, Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 suffered a blow with a defeat in Georgia, but there was to be no repeat of that disappointment – particularly when Malta had two players sent off in the second half.
Strachan told reporters after the game: “Winning was all we had to do. We like to try and perform, obviously.
“We got too strung out after 20 minutes but we sorted it out in the second half.
“At 1-1, it’s not easy to play in a situation like that. Nerves, stress, and a lack of fitness take over and you wonder if you might end up on the end of a historic result. They gave Italy a good game here, so you know it’s not going to be easy.
“Our ability has shown and our mental strength has shown as well.
“We’re lucky we’ve got a bunch of lads who can deal with the stress that manifests because of that goal [Malta’s equaliser]. A lot of teams don’t have that.”
Martin put Scotland back in the lead after 53 minutes, but Strachan said the Fulham striker could have had more, while he reserved praise for 19-year-old midfielder Oliver Burke, who played in his first competitive match for his country the week after sealing a big-money move to Red Bull Leipzig.
“Chris Martin scored a goal, and he could have scored another couple,” said Strachan. “We didn’t get people close enough to him in the first half but we sorted that out.
“[Burke] did things that excite you and pushed defenders back, but he’s only just turned 19. I’m sure he’s glad to have got his first competitive cap out of the way.”
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin credited Scotland’s attacking play and said his players would need to reflect on how they lost their grip on the game.
He said: “I’m very disappointed but sometimes you have to accept the result.
“I don’t want to find excuses. We lost very heavily. We need to talk together to understand the problem.
“It’s not our fault. It’s to the merit of Scotland.
“Scotland’s style of play is to push a lot, not to stay static. We played well in the first half but in the second half Scotland pushed on.”