Scotland 1 Lithuania 1: Raving and relief
Scotland salvaged a draw from the first home match of the World Cup qualifying campaign, at home to Lithuania.
Gordon Strachan felt his side were “unlucky” in the game, not to score earlier and further goals, rather than fortunate to scramble in a late header that salvaged a point and kept Scotland in second place – where they started the match.
For a long, over-long, spell it seemed the Tartan Army would not hear their chosen goal celebration music, instead only the toll of the bell at this increasingly early fpoint of the World Cup qualifying campaign.
But James McArthur glanced in the last-gasp equaliser after Grant Hanley flicked Callum Paterson’s long throw-in towards goal and the Artemesia anthem ‘Bits and Pieces’ blared around Hampden.
It was harder than it ought to have been. The optimism from the 5-1 drubbing of Malta was cancelled out by Lithuania who threatened without truly troubling David Marshall early on. Scotland though couldn’t lay a glove on Ernestas Setkus until Chris Martin went agonisingly close to opening the scoring on 24 minutes.
Patterson’s poor pass for Oliver Burke was salvaged by Robert Snodgrass and the Hull City man clipped a ball to the back-post where Martin wrestled off his marker to divert the ball across goal and just wide of the far post.
The chance was enough to halt Lithuanian attacks which frequently got in behind the Scottish defence and instil some confidence in the home side..
It was a bruising contest too, Mantas Kuklys was booekd for scything down Robert Snodgrass and it was more often than not the Scottish number 10 who was subjected to some rough treatment.
Barry Bannan was next to test the goalkeeper on 33 minutes with a low strike that Setkus gathered at the second attempt, and well before Martin could seize on the rebound.
Just three minutes alter jeers rang around the National Stadium directed towards Tobias Stieler the German referee. Oliver Burke, Scotland’s Fife-born Bundesliga player waltzed into the penalty area only to have the heel of his trailing leg clipped yards from goal. The Tartan Army roared for a penalty, Stieler ran into the box, but only spoke to Burke, then awarded a goal kick.
The Lithuanians had their own claim, and Stieler again told the fall-guy to get up. At the west end of Hampden Fiodor Cernych took a tumble in a tangle with Barry Bannan and again the referee was unmoved.
Gordon Strachan swapped captain Darren Fletcher for James McArthur at half-time and immediately after the break, though not as a consequence, Scotland went close to opening the scoring.
Attacking down the left through Andy Robertson, a ball inside fell invitingly for Snodgrass to clip a shot at goal from 12 yards. It seemed destined for the net but Georgas Freidgeimas’ head was in the way and the ball was knocked wide to Robertson again and his low cross for Martin at the backpost was cleared.
Martin went as close, if not closer, than his first half near miss when a header to Matt Ritchie’s cross after 53 minutes spun inches wide of the post and had half of Hampden on their feet.
James Forrest was pitched in for Burke shortly before the hour mark but Gordon Strachan’s game changer couldn’t affect the game before it changed itself.
Vykintas Slivka played a great pass through Grant Hanley and Russell Martin at the heart of the Scots’ defence and Fiodor Cernych charged onto the through ball and dispatched it powerfully past David Marshall.
A break in response from Scotland two minutes later saw Setkus parry a cross from Robertson out to Forrest who swept a low drive wide again.
On 78 minutes the chance came.
Leigh Griffiths, on and warmed up eight minutes after replacing Matt Ritchie, got on the end of a Snodgrass cross and stooped to meet it. He made clean contact and diverted it to wards goal, but headed straight at Setkus.
A goal behind, the Tartan Army became increasingly frustrated at frequent stoppages for treatment to the yellow-clad players, and regular delays in the game as the clock neared 90 minutes.
Scotland had been here before – think Stephen McManus in the 96th minute against Liechtenstein – and Hampden stayed to see it again. There was barely any early departures - save for the Scotland under-21 squad in to watch the game - and they got what they were waiting for, but perhaps not enough.
James McArthur headed in the equaliser from close range after Grant Hanley’s flick on to a long Callum Paterson throw with two minutes to go and Bits and Pieces rang out around Mount Florida.
It was music to the ears as Hampden raved, relieved.