James Forrest scored twice as Scotland set up an all-or-nothing Nations League promotion shootout with Israel by dispatching 10-man Albania 4-0 on Saturday.
Alex McLeish’s resources were spread thin by nine withdrawals but proceedings were smoother in Shkoder as Forrest struck a brace after Ryan Fraser and Steven Fletcher opened up a two-goal first-half advantage.
Albania captain Mergim Mavraj made the task simpler than it should have been, receiving a red card for headbutting Ryan Christie soon after Fraser’s 14th-minute opener.
His team were left bottom of Group 1 in League C, from which Scotland can escape if they beat Israel – 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture – in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Albania’s hopes of avoiding a third-place finish, where they are at risk of relegation pending results elsewhere, effectively evaporated in the space of seven minutes.
Fraser first capitalised on Taulant Xhaka’s turnover to cut inside and curl into the bottom far corner, before Mavraj followed a poor tackle on Forrest with a costlier moment of ill-discipline.
12 – Ryan Fraser has been directly involved in 12 goals in 16 appearances for club and country combined in 2018-19 (five goals and seven assists). Talent. pic.twitter.com/P06dJtPeBh
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 17, 2018
Scotland posed little threat until Rey Manaj was adjudged to have handled Stuart Armstrong’s free-kick, enabling Fletcher to convert his first international goal since September 2016 in first-half stoppage time.
They were cruising within 10 minutes of the restart, Forrest striding onto Christie’s through pass and beating Etrit Berisha in a one-on-one.
And the result was given an emphatic look when the Celtic winger made it a double in the 67th minute by taking a touch and firing home all in one fluid motion, taking Scotland level on six points with Israel.
What does it mean? McLeish okay without walking wounded
Robbed of considerable experience with Kieran Tierney, Charlie Mulgrew and Steven Naismith among the men missing, McLeish will take great satisfaction from the no-fuss approach of his unheralded understudies, with new defensive partners Scott McKenna and debutant David Bates particularly accomplished.
Christie showcases international class
He wore Mavraj’s headbutt in the first half but Christie’s influence extended well beyond that pivotal moment, the Celtic midfielder responsible for creating Fraser’s opener with his harrying efforts on Xhaka and later pocketing a second assist for Forrest’s first.
Mavraj madness undoes Albania
Mavraj, a 32-year-old with considerable experience on his resume, will have to accept full culpability for this result.
That he had been fortunate not to receive red for lunging in on Forrest moments before headbutting Christie made his indiscretion all the more egregious.
Key Opta Facts
– Scotland recorded their biggest victory in an international game under McLeish, in what was the Scot’s 19th game in charge (across two spells).
– Despite having 58 per cent possession in the game, Albania failed to record a shot on target over the course of 90 minutes (Scotland had six).
– Scotland have only lost one of their last nine competitive games (W6 D2), with this the sixth clean sheet that they have kept in this run.
– Fraser has been directly involved in 13 goals in 16 appearances for club and country combined in 2018-19 (five goals and eight assists).
– Forrest scored his first two goals for the senior Scotland team, converting with both of his shots on target in the game.
Scotland will concentrate all of their energy on overcoming Israel at Hampden Park, while Albania will hope for a more positive outing in a home friendly with Wales on Tuesday.
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