James Forrest inspired Scotland to Nations League promotion as his hat-trick headlined a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Israel in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Twice on target in the 4-0 trouncing of Albania on Saturday, Forrest maintained his rich form by overturning former Celtic team-mate Beram Kayal’s opener in the space of nine first-half minutes and completing a decisive treble just after the hour.
Alex McLeish’s men – beaten 2-1 in the reverse fixture – needed three points to leapfrog Israel into top spot in Group 1 of League C and were made to negotiate an anxious last 15 minutes when Eran Zahavi reduced the deficit.
Scotland demonstrated maturity to steady and saw off one final scare with help from Allan McGregor to confirm their ascension to the Nations League’s second tier.
Early tension at Hampden Park ratcheted up when midfielder Kayal, afforded time to pick his spot from 25 yards, curled a brilliant effort beyond Allan McGregor in the ninth minute.
Scotland responded confidently and, after Ariel Harush acrobatically denied Callum McGregor, Forrest took charge.
The winger pounced on a kind deflection from Stuart Armstrong’s initial shot to restore parity and guided his side ahead in a one-on-one in the 43rd minute, Ryan Christie having skilfully squared following Steven Fletcher’s headed flick-on.
And it was Scotland’s star man who all but made the points safe in the 64th minute as he expertly cushioned Ryan Fraser’s lay-off and clinically picked out the bottom-right corner.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 20, 2018
Israel rallied late to give the contest life as Zahavi turned on Bibras Natcho’s pass and picked out the bottom-left corner, but McGregor’s close-range denial of substitute Tomer Hemed in the 88th minute spared the hosts from heartbreak.
What does it mean? McLeish finds formula for the future
Two successive competitive victories, both achieved with reasonable helpings of attacking panache, should be enough to convince McLeish that the unconvincing three-man defence previously employed is to remain at best a secondary option.
It may be tricky to fit Kieran Tierney into his newly adopted 4-3-3, but that conundrum is surely outweighed by the positives, as Scotland celebrate Nations League promotion and having a Euro 2020 play-off safety net in place before the main qualification campaign begins.
Forrest finally flourishing
Much has been expected of Forrest since he debuted for Scotland in 2011, at which time he was still not established in Celtic’s starting XI.
Now, after going scoreless in his first 24 international outings, the 27-year-old suddenly has five goals to his credit and looks a player increasingly at ease in the national team.
He scored three goals from five attempts, as well as creating three chances for his team-mates, with the lively Fraser setting up four on the opposite flank – two of which were assists.
4 – James Forrest has scored four goals in his last two games for Scotland, after failing to score in his previous 24 appearances. Awakening. pic.twitter.com/GEwLPtvXL9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 20, 2018
Peretz fails to match previous heights
On the scoresheet and influential when the teams met in October, Dor Peretz picked a poor time to lose sight of those standards as he struggled to exhibit any kind of influence from midfield, failing to create a single chance for his team-mates and barely seeing the ball before being replaced after Forrest’s third goal.
Scotland will head to December’s Euro 2020 qualifying draw with renewed optimism, while Israel have time to reflect on a missed opportunity. The next international fixture window is in March.
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