Scotland get the points but not the plaudits
Gordon Strachan’s side off the mark in Group D but performance fails to convince
Scotland’s Steven Fletcher celebrates Akaki Khubutia’s first-half own goal. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Inpho
Scotland 1 Georgia 0
Scotland picked up their first three Euro 2016 qualifying points with a nervy 1-0 win over Georgia at Ibrox.
The home side were undoubtedly the better team but it took an own goal in the 27th minute to bring victory to Gordon Strachan’s side.
Shaun Maloney’s drive from inside the box was pushed by Georgia keeper Giorgi Loria on to the leg of defender Akaki Khubutia, who watched as the ball trundled over the line.
The win sets up Scotland for the trip to Warsaw to play Poland on Tuesday night, but improvement will be required if they are to bring any points back.
Unusually, Strachan left it late to name his team but the biggest talking point was Darren Fletcher starting on the bench, with Scott Brown taking the armband.
As expected, David Marshall was preferred to in-form Celtic keeper Craig Gordon in goal as Steven Fletcher, fresh from scoring a double for Sunderland last week, returned to lead the line, supported by Steven Naismith, while left-back Andrew Robertson replaced Steven Whittaker.
Rangers’ stadium, used as Hampden Park is still out of commission due to its use in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, was heavy with expectation — if well short of its 51,000-capacity — by the time the teams emerged for the kick-off.
Much was expected from the Scots following their impressive display in the 2-1 defeat by World Cup winners Germany in Dortmund last month.
And when the game began after a minute’s applause for former Scottish FA chief executive David Taylor, who passed away in the summer, the home side set a high tempo as they forced Georgia on to the back foot.
However, the visitors defended with a degree of comfort in the early stages, with keeper Loria having to deal mainly with crosses and corners, albeit none too convincingly.
Scotland had a firm grip of the game but there was more perspiration than inspiration and there was an element of luck to the goal.
The tireless Robertson’s cross from the left was pushed clear by Loria but only to Maloney, whose returned shot from 16 yards was saved by the keeper against the hapless Khubutia with the ball ending up in the net.
As fortuitous as it was, the goal relaxed the home side and the supporters and Strachan’s men began to turn the screw.
In the 35th minute Naismith only just failed to control a clever pass by Fletcher, allowing Loria to smother, before Brown’s curling shot drive from the edge of the box was deflected for another corner, the Georgia defence by this time in full-blown panic mode.
Fletcher headed a Robertson cross past the near post as the home side finished strongly in the search for a second and probably clinching goal.
Driven on by Brown, Scotland continued to boss the game after the restart but good build-up work fell down all too often when they could not find that final pass.
There was a moment of concern for the home side on the hour mark when, in trying to deal with a long ball, Scotland defender Grant Hanley lost Nikoloz Gelashvili but the Georgia striker flashed his shot high over the bar.
Moments later, as the Scots pressed again, Naismith drove his angled-shot straight at Loria, Fletcher doing likewise soon afterwards.
Tension increased slowly as the minutes ticked away.
Robertson carelessly gave the ball away to Gelashvili ,then had to make a blocking tackle on the Georgian forward to concede a corner, which came to nothing but which added to simmering anxiety.
In the 78th minute Naismith screwed a shot wide of the far post after good set-up play by Fletcher.
You could have heard a pin drop a minute later at the other end when the ball fell kindly to Georgia substitute Irakli Dzaria inside the Scotland box, but he fired wide to the palpable relief of the home supporters.
The home side rallied. James Morrison drew a save from Loria at the expense of a corner, which Hanley headed over, but in the end the Scots saw out the win, although they will be presented with a much tougher challenge in Warsaw.