Friday 22 September 2017

Scotland impress in Lithuania to keep World Cup hopes alive

Scotland's Charlie Mulgrew (centre) and his team-mates celebrate after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, Group F match at the LFF Stadium, Vilnius
Scotland's Charlie Mulgrew (centre) and his team-mates celebrate after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, Group F match at the LFF Stadium, Vilnius

Ronnie Esplin

Scotland kept their World Cup hopes alive following their convincing 3-0 win over Lithuania in Vilnius.

Celtic midfielder Stuart Armstrong scored his first goal in dark blue with a header from a Leigh Griffiths corner in the 25th minute and new Liverpool signing Andy Robertson curled in a glorious second five minutes later at the LFF stadionas.

Midfielder James McArthur made it 3-0 from close range in the 72nd minute to clinch three valuable Group F points.

After seven fixtures, Gordon Strachan's men have 11 points, still four behind second-placed Slovakia, who beat Slovenia 1-0.

The Scots moved above Slovenia into third and face minnows Malta at Hampden Park on Monday before hosting Slovakia and travelling to take on Slovenia in what will be two tense games in October.

Boss Strachan included in his side all six Celtic players in his squad - Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Armstrong, James Forrest and Griffiths.

Left-back Tierney was moved to the right while West Brom winger Matt Phillips was handed his first competitive start.

The home side had Hibernian midfielder Vykintas Slivka and former Hearts attacker Arvydas Novikovas in their line-up.

Strachan had insisted that this was not a must-win fixture but that view was very much in the minority, even among the Tartan Army who took up around 50 per cent of the 5,000-plus ground capacity.

After a minute's silence before kick-off as tribute to Lithuania press officer Vaiva Zizaite, who died recently, the Scots slowly set about their task on the artificial surface which had been heavily watered beforehand.

Griffiths and Armstrong both had attempts which missed the target but the best chance fell to Novikovas after McArthur lost possession but he turned inside defender Christophe Berra before missing the target from 12 yards with his right-footed drive.

Phillips and Armstrong had efforts which failed to find the target but it was goalkeeper Craig Gordon who came to the Scots' rescue in the 21st minute when he stretched to tip a 25-yard free-kick from Novikovas over the bar for a corner, which came to nothing.

After Griffiths came close with a curling free-kick from a similar distance, he turned provider when his corner from the right saw Parkhead team-mate Armstrong bullet a header past Lithuania keeper Ernestas Setkus.

It was the breakthrough the visitors desperately wanted and they doubled their lead on the half-hour mark when Robertson took a pass from Forrest and curled a shot high past the flailing Setkus.

The interval allowed Scotland to settle and they looked more composed after the restart.

A terrific delivery from the tireless Robertson in the 52nd minute found Griffiths at the back post but he could only return the ball with his right foot into the side netting.

Scotland looked to have tightened up in defence but on the hour-mark the home side were presented with another opportunity but Slivka fired wide from 10 yards.

In the 66th minute winger Matt Ritchie replaced Forrest and five minutes later Armstrong again burst through the middle of the home defence before bringing out a decent save from Setkus who parried his left-footed shot.

But the third was only seconds away. A minute later a quick throw-in by Ritchie set up Griffiths and when he rolled the ball to McArthur he dinked it in from a few yards out to clinch the points.

Chris Martin came on for Griffiths in the 79th minute to offer a more physical approach and tested Setkus with a powerful drive at the death when the game was effectively over.

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