Scotland beat San Marino 6-0 to get back to winning ways – as pouring rain threatened to see their Hampden Euro 2020 qualifier called off.
The emphatic win against the world’s lowest-ranked side will be little consolation for a miserable qualifying campaign, with the Dark Blues now hoping to build towards next year’s play-offs in the aim of reaching a first major tournament since 1998.
Still, the Scots started the evening a lowly fifth in Group I, but knew victory would propel them to more-respectable fourth, after runaway leaders Belgium beat Kazakhstan earlier, and would also put them within one point of third-placed Cyprus – defeated by Russia..
Aberdeen centre-back Mikey Devlin retained his place in Steve Clarke’s starting line-up from Thursday’s 4-0 defeat in Russia, earning his second cap.
There were changes, however, with ex-Dons youngster Lawrence Shankland in from the start in place of Oli Burke. Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Stuart Findlay, Scott McTominay and keeper Jon McLaughlin all came in to the first 11.
Scotland dominated the opening five minutes. Shankland was somehow denied by visiting keeper Aldo Simoncini at point-blank range as he latched on to Forrest’s centre.
The opener came on 12 minutes, when Christie – picked out with a long ball by skipper Andy Robertson – fired at the far corner from the right edge of the San Marino area. John MCGINN made sure the ball found the net with a deft touch.
On 17 minutes, Shankland again came close, firing into the side netting after spinning Luca Censoni on the edge of the visitors’ area.
MCGINN got his and Scotland’s second on 27 minutes, knocking the ball under Simoncini from eight yards after the goalie spilled McTominay’s timid low cross from the left.
The keeper redeemed himself with a diving save from McTominay on 33 minutes as the Dark Blues began to eye a cricket score.
Just before the break, in added on time, with heavy rain starting to affect the pitch, MCGINN turned to lash Findlay’s headed knock-down in for his hat-trick.
After the break, the increasingly waterlogged pitch was taking its toll on the play, with passes stopping dead as they splashed through puddles.
It became evident French referee Jerome Brisard and his team would have a decision to make about whether to abandon the game.
However, there was no early end to proceedings and, on 65 minutes, a deflected McTominay shot fell to SHANKLAND 12 yards out and – ruled onside – the striker had an easy finish for his first international goal on his first start.
Moments later, FINDLAY headed a corner home to extend the lead to five.
After this, Clarke’s team continued to probe for more, with Robertson chipping the ball on to the roof of the net on 78 minutes.
On 86 minutes, sub Stuart ARMSTRONG got in on the act when he put a free-kick from the edge of the area in the top left corner.
There was an element of farce to the build up, with Simoncini penalised for picking the ball up outside his box. It appeared the keeper thought a foul had been awarded to the Scots on halfway.
With the full-time whistle, thoughts turned to the final two Group I games against Cyprus and Kazakhstan as Clarke’s Scots look to build momentum ahead of the play-offs in the Spring.
Scotland: McLaughlin, Palmer, Robertson, Devlin, McTominay, McGinn, Shankland, McGregor, Findlay, Forrest, Christie.
Subs: Armstrong, Russell (for McGregor, McGinn 70).
Subs not used: Marshall, MacGillivray, Mulgrew, Fraser, Gallagher, Morgan, O’Donnell, Taylor.
San Marino: Simoncini, D’Addario, Gasperoni, Mularoni, Giardi, Battistini, Brolli, Nanni, Golinucci, Berardi, Censoni.
Subs: Ceccaroli (for Berardi 80).
Subs not used: Zavoli, Benedettini, Della Valle, Palazzi, Lunadei,Bernardi, Grandoni, Hirsch, Golinucci, Tomassini.