Tuesday 17 July 2018

Skrtel's moment of misfortune hands Strachan's side a lifeline

Scotland 1 Slovakia 0

Scotland's Christophe Berra (right) and Slovakia's Adam Nemec battle for the ball. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Scotland's Christophe Berra (right) and Slovakia's Adam Nemec battle for the ball. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Roddy Forsyth

Nothing but torment would do for a Scotland team but in the 89th minute of a tantalising contest, played mostly against the 10 men of Slovakia, the issue was settled by the inadvertent boot of Martin Skrtel.

Caught between two Scottish substitutes, the former Liverpool man tried to intercept a low cutback from Ikechi Anya that was meant for Chris Martin.

Skrtel got to it before Martin but his contact spun the ball into his own net to trigger bedlam amongst the Tartan Army, who had writhed in frustration as their side twice hit the bar in the second half. Now the Scots must win in Slovenia on Sunday to book an almost certain place in the World Cup play-offs.

A first-half surge by Kieran Tierney ended when the full-back was bundled off the ball by Robert Mak amid howls for a penalty kick, which the Serbian referee declined to indulge.

Having escaped sanction, Mak - who scored twice against Scotland in Slovakia's 3-0 victory last year - began to overplay his hand with a crude foul on James Forrest which cost him a yellow card.

The free-kick almost brought Scotland the opening goal, when Leigh Griffiths' delivery was met by Christophe Berra with a header that Dubranka turned around the post with a spectacular dive.

Scotland's Chris Martin (no. 19) celebrates scoring his side's first goal. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Scotland's Chris Martin (no. 19) celebrates scoring his side's first goal. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Mak, seemingly determined to claim a place in the chronicles of Hampden infamy, found it when he chased a ball across the Scottish area and forced Craig Gordon into a vain dive to push it away from the Slovak midfielder.

Mak had only to stay on his feet to have a shooting chance towards an empty goal but he chose to go to ground in front of the referee, who could see there had been no contact. Mak's departure followed.

By the interval, Scotland could reflect on an ample share of possession, but the crowd had become agitated by a failure to deliver the telling final ball.

The undercurrents of frustration in the stands remained until Skrtel's moment of dire misfortune, and all was forgiven.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

Now, if Scotland can emulate England and beat Slovenia, they have a fighting chance of ending a 19-year exile from the finals of a major tournament. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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