Scotland Under-21s 3
Malta Under-21s 0
ON THE BASIS that they can do no more than beat the team in the other half of the park, Scotland's youngsters did what was necessary at Tannadice yesterday to earn their first win in their European Under-21 Championship group. And, if the Maltese had an in-built aversion to going into enemy territory, that should not detract from some worthwhile performances from the home lads.
Scott Booth, for instance, became the highest scorer in Scottish Under-21 history when he hit the opening goal, his sixth international strike. He added a second near the end to complete a decent afternoon's work. Duncan Ferguson, who scored the other goal, showed that all the off-field arguments of recent weeks had not affected his exciting potential.
The other Ferguson, Darren, had an impressive spell, too, but there were no flaws in the home line-up and, indeed, some encouraging displays.
They may have offered very little in attack -- in fact they offered nothing at all in the first half -- but there was no soft centre in the Maltese defence. They went about their business with a determination that allowed some highly dubious interpetations of the fair tackle. Jonathan Buhagiar, one of their enthusiastic front players, had a neat line in late tackles, the first of which left Bain in some discomfort on the far touchline.
The second unsavoury lunge by the Maltese player did no favours to Deas and Norwegian referee Pedersen correctly, if belatedly, showed him the yellow card. However, if justice had been served the card score would have been levelled after Bain apparently sought some retribution and hauled down Buhagiar in reckless fashion.
The referee seemed to work on the basis that a player was permitted one fling before action was taken, and the Dundee lad was let off.
Meanwhile, deep in the heart of the Maltese defence, where all the action was taking place, Duncan Ferguson and Darren Debono were having a separate feud all of their own.
Whatever else the young man from Malta is, he is not lacking in courage as Ferguson, who has learned to handle the rumbles of the premier division, is no soft touch.
They might have been given a penalty when Spiteri held back Bernard, but maybe you need two of those as well before Rune Pedersen takes notice.
Before Booth stepped in to score his first goal, Duncan Ferguson had been closest to giving the 4728 crowd, many of whom were schoolchildren, a thrill when he hit an overhead kick from a Deas cross and was only denied by a good parry by the keeper.
In 31 minutes Booth did the trick when he had plenty of time and space to head in a corner taken by Darren Ferguson on the right.
Darren, son of Alex, might have had one to himself a few minutes later when he hit a splendid right foot shot which the keeper, Mallia, did well to touch over.
But within three minutes of the second half the other Fergie, Duncan, had blasted a header past the keeper to put Scotland two up. The Scots did look far more purposeful after the break and Malta, although starting the second period with Muscat on for Grech, looked just about ready to collapse.
Debono did precisely that shortly afterwards, but it seemed to be as a result of close attention from Duncan Ferguson who was spoken to by the referee but who looked in danger of serious assault if the anger vented at him by some of Debono's colleagues was a guide. In 57 minutes a rare event, Howie had to make a save of sorts, a clutch of a cross from Galea, and five minutes later Scotland replaced Deas with Andy Dow.
Scotland then brought on Andy McLaren for Bernard, but the main question remained how many more would the Maltese lose. They defied that presumption until the last minute when a Telfer free-kick went all the way across goal to Booth, who nodded it over Mallia and into the net.
SCOTLAND -- Howie (Clyde), Murray (Rangers), Deas (St Johnstone), Wright (Aberdeen), Bain (Dundee), Bernard (Oldham), Telfer (Luton), Johnston (Dundee United), Duncan Ferguson (Dundee United), Darren Ferguson (Manchester United), Booth (Aberdeen). Substitutes -- Reid (Hibernian), McAuley (St Johnstone), Dow (Dundee), Dailly, McLaren (both Dundee United).
MALTA -- Mallia, Debono, Said, Chetcuti, Mizzi, Grech, Agius, Spiteri, Galea, Zammit, Buhagiar. Substitutes -- Sullivan, Camilleri, Marlow, Muscat, Montanaro.
Referee -- R Pedersen (Norway).