Scotland made heavy work of defeating Moldova 1-0 at Hampden Park to return to winning ways in their World Cup 2022 qualifying bid.
Lyndon Dykes’ early goal proved decisive, however the unflattering nature of the win against weak opposition will have done little to ease some of the flak directed towards manager Steve Clarke following a run of just two victories in 10 matches.
It seemed incomprehensible Scotland could fail to claim the three points against a Moldovan side ranked 175th in the world, with an expectation upon Clarke’s men to do so with some style.
Despite the marginal scoreline the Scots created numerous opportunities, however a lack of composure in the final third was evident, with far more ruthlessness needed if they are to triumph against a vastly superior Austria side in their next qualifier on Tuesday.
The win was the all-important factor however, which sets up the Scots for a crucial encounter in Vienna against an Austrian side who were well beaten by Israel.
Clarke drastically reshuffled his starting 11 from the side which went down 2-0 to Denmark on Wednesday, with several key players back among the reckoning.
John McGinn, Ryan Christie, Dykes and Jack Hendry were recalled, while there were also first national team starts for Nathan Patterson and Kevin Nisbet.
The players who dropped out of the starting line-up were Callum McGregor, Kenny McLean, Liam Cooper, Scott McKenna, Che Adams and Ryan Fraser.
Patterson was instantly involved with a darting run down the right flank within the opening 90 seconds which led to him striking well wide after he cut inside on to his left foot, while skipper Andy Robertson showed similar early menace down the left when he linked up well with Nisbet but could not execute his strike.
Moldova offered their first glimpse on nine minutes, however Mihail Ghecev was unable to keep his balance which meant his effort at goal trundled harmlessly wide.
Patterson was at the heart of Scotland’s breakthrough on 14 minutes though, with his low shot following a Nisbet through ball forcing a fine save by Cristian Avram, however Dykes was lurking at point-blank range to tap home.
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Scotland’s strikeforce continued to cause the visitors problems, with Dykes releasing Nisbet with a crisp pass on 24 minutes before the Hibernian attacker was crowded out.
Kieran Tierney should have added a second three minutes later when he was picked out completely unmarked by Billy Gilmour’s corner, however his header was not far enough away from Avram who stretched to tip the effort over.
The opportunities continued to come, with Robertson blazing over from an excellent position after being played through by Christie, while Gilmour struck straight at Avram from the edge of the box in pursuit of a goal on his home debut.
Scotland had to ensure they did not live to rue the missed chances, with Ghecev striking narrowly wide of Craig Gordon’s goal from the edge of the box on 38 minutes.
With a one-goal lead at the break the hosts sought to kill the game off in the opening stages of the second half, with McGinn seeing a shot blocked after he had capitalised on a loose pass in the Moldovan defence.
An even better chance fell to Grant Hanley on 54 minutes when he was picked out at the far post by another Gilmour corner, but he directed his header over the bar.
Gilmour spurned a glorious chance to put the game beyond doubt just after the hour mark, when he slipped an effort wide after exchanging a one-two with Nisbet.
Clarke shook up his side by introducing McGregor and Adams, who saw a long-range effort deflected inches wide shortly after his arrival on the field.
Christie scooped an effort well over in the closing stages, with Scotland forced to hold out to scrape the victory.
SCOTLAND (3-5-2) – Gordon 6; Hendry 6, Hanley 6, Tierney 6; Patterson 8, McGinn 6 (McGregor 65), Gilmour 7 (McLean 73), Christie 6, Robertson 6 (Cooper 73); Dykes 7 (Turnbull 84), Nisbet 6 (Adams 65). Subs not used – Kelly, Clark, O’Donnell, McKenna, Gallagher, Ferguson, Turnbull, Fraser.
MOLDOVA (3-5-2) – Avram 7; Potirniche 6, Bolohan 6, Armas 6; Jardan 6, Rata 6, Ginsari 5 (Spataru 88), Ionita 5 (Clescenco 90), Reabciuk 5; Ghecev 6, Platica 5. Subs not used – Namasco, Dumbravanu, Agachi, Bogaciuc, Marandici, Antoniuc, Belousov, Dros, Milinceanu, Revenco.
Referee – Lawrence Visser (Belgium) 6
Attendance – 40, 869
Man of the match: Nathan Patterson