Malta, Monday.

Malta 1, Scotland 2

IT REMAINS a mystery why any Scot should register surprise when the

national team struggles miserably to subdue a country widely regarded as

being footballing inferiors. You would think that after all this time we

would know better.

Nevertheless, it is still sore on the eyes to watch Scottish players

fumble for the ability just to control the ball, pass it accurately, or

think of ways in which to alter the pattern of play. Sometimes it is

thought we are the ones who are just learning.

If it had not been for two intrusions by Alan McInally in the Ta' Qali

Stadium, Malta would have recorded their first victory in 20 matches.

Again it was the outrageous generosity of Scotland's defence which

transformed what should have been a stroll into an evening of some


After McInally had scored a splendid goal minutes into the game, Davie

McPherson appeared to deflect a Michael Degiorgio cross into the net. It

was the fifth time in eight matches that Scotland had conceded an own


However, his wayward touch should not be allowed to disguise the

disarray into which the central defenders had slumped. They were fatally


Andy Goram also was culpable. The keeper started to come for the ball

but halted and was caught in no-man's land. It was an error which might

well have cost him his place in Scotland's next match, the opening World

Cup-tie against Costa Rica.

The Central Americans, Swedes, and Brazilians must be confident of

inflicting even more pain on Andy Roxburgh, the Scottish manager, who

has seen his team win only twice in eight games.

The system of five at the back did not provide enough forward thrust.

It is important to break swiftly at international level, but the Scots

seem incapable of doing so.

The idea of coming to Malta, where the heat can be searing even at

this time of the year, was a good one, but some of the value has been

lost because of injury to Davie Cooper and the late arrival of his

replacement Robert Fleck, who because of difficulties getting a flight

from Dubrovnik, where he was on holiday, now will not arrive until

tomorrow afternoon.

However, Roxburgh believes a couple of days in the kind of

temperatures expected in Italy are better than none at all, and Fleck

might find himself having to work harder than the rest.

Roxburgh had been hoping for a warm night in which to send his team

out to work, but even the weather, which had been almost unbearably hot

since Scotland's arrival, refused to oblige. The evening was mild, even

chilly at times.

Scotland started brightly. Gough was pushing forward on the right and

affording the team a more mobile and potent appearance, and it was the

Rangers defender who was up in Malta's box winning a high ball delivered

by Bett.

A Scottish goal was delayed only as long as five minutes. Malpas swept

the ball out to McInally running wide on the left. The tall striker

checked, cut inside and left two defenders looking statuesque before

slotting the ball low past the keeper.

Yet Malta became much neater in their work, although not particularly

threatening, and they missed the sure touch of their top scorer, Carmel

Busuttil, whose release for this game was refused by his club side,


However, they did find the net a few minutes before half time.

Degiorgio curled the ball towards goal from a free kick on the left. The

Scottish defence looked like amateurs, and as the ball dropped, Goram,

who had started to advance, slipped. A few more bounces and the ball was

in the net, seemingly off McPherson.

Scotland's football was unimaginative and was lacking flair and

forward momentum. Until the Maltese equaliser, the game was devoid of

incident and McInally and Johnston were starved of a regular supply. It

was ever thus.

Also just before the interval, Gillespie hurt his left leg, and after

a period of treatment, it was decided to withdraw him and send on

Levein, who arrived just in time to witness Malta's bizarre goal.

The Scots resumed with Leighton in goal and McAllister in midfield,

where he was replacing Bett, and the tall Leicester player's first

involvement carried him through Malta's defences. However, his pass

across goal was not accurate enough.

Malta were entitled to feel happier about the way they were playing,

and midway in the second half, they decided to alter their attack by

taking off Gregory and sending on Zarb. It was not long before Roxburgh

changed his front line, with McCoist relieving Johnston.

It was frustrating to see McCoist, and everyone else who was wearing a

Scotland jersey, crowd into Leighton's box to defend against a corner

conceded by Malpas. If we feel we have to defend like that against

Malta, then God help us when Sweden or Brazil win a corner against us in


Soon after, McStay was taken off, and his midfield place given to

Collins. But it was another midfield player, McAllister, who began a

move which brought relief. He worked the ball forward and brought Malpas

into play. The defender's cross was met by McInally, who snapped his

head forward and beat the keeper.

Only eight minutes remained and the Scots were happy just to play out


MALTA -- Cini, S Vella, Carabott, Galea, Laferla, Buttigieg, Zerafa, R

Vella, Gregory, Degiorgio, Lcari. Substitutes -- Zarb, Camilleri,

Scerri, Delia.

SCOTLAND -- Goram (Hibernian), Gough (Rangers), Aitken (Newcastle),

McPherson (Hearts), Gillespie (Liverpool), Malpas (Dundee United),

McCall (Everton), McStay (Celtic), Bett (Aberdeen), Johnston (Rangers),

McInally (Bayern Munich). Substitutes -- Leighton (Manchester United),

McCoist (Rangers), Levein (Hearts), Collins (Hibs), McAllister


Referee -- Mr C Longhi (Italy).