Five things we learned from Scotland's 2-1 win over Cyprus in Nicosia.


It is just as well that VAR and goalline technology aren’t in use in the European qualifiers, because Scotland certainly would have been behind early on if they had as Efrem’s shot came down off the bar and bounced over the line, but luckily referee Harald Lechner failed to spot it.

Not that the visitors were always pleased by the official’s incompetence, with that early blunder just a sign of things to come from a referee that was over-fussy and infuriated both sides in equal measure along the way.

Some of the calls made by the Austrian had to be seen to be believed, routinely getting simple decisions on corners and goal-kicks wrong for both sides, but luckily his horror show only had a bearing on the scoreline in Scotland’s favour.


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Naismith’s return to fitness is as vital to his country as it is to his club, and he showed it here as he led the line superbly for an hour.

The experienced Hearts man set the tone for the rest of the team, pressing high when out of possession and harrying the Cypriot defenders, and the exasperated Merkis in particular looked absolutely sick of the sight of him.

He is the archetypal player that you love when he is in your team and hate when he is playing against you.

With the other attacking options in the Scotland squad such as Oli McBurnie and Lawrence Shankland still learning the game at this level, Naismith’s nous can be so valuable to Scotland in the play-offs in March if he can stay fit and get up to full speed in the interim period.


Steve Clarke would have been glad to have had Aberdeen centre-back Scott McKenna back at the heart of his defence, and although he wasn’t quite at his best here it looks as though it will be him plus one other when the play-offs roll around.

Motherwell centre-back Declan Gallagher was given his chance to stake a claim in Cyprus and he did his chances no harm with a solid display. For a first run-out too, the partnership between him and McKenna got off to a pretty good start.

There were a few hairy moments, with McKenna’s propensity for giving away needless set-pieces in dangerous areas coming back to bite Scotland with Efrem’s equaliser. Giving away goals from set plays has been a weakness for the Scots all throughout this campaign, and the last thing they need to do is needlessly put themselves in such positions.

Still, there were some signs here that this pairing may well be one to build on.


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It has been a long time coming, but the Rangers midfielder finally got his first competitive match for his country under his belt, and he can be more than happy with how he acquitted himself.

His energy and defensive nous complimented Callum McGregor well, and he will certainly have given national team head coach Steve Clarke food for thought when it comes to selecting his midfield when the likes of Manchester United star Scott McTominay comes back into the fold.

He showed his value in the second half as he temporarily filled in at right-back when Liam Palmer was injured and stopped a counter-attack dead in its tracks, and it was a moment that was typical of his overall performance, plugging gaps and setting Scotland on their way throughout.


Wins over San Marino and Cyprus may represent small steps in Scotland’s journey towards finally making it to a major tournament once again, but Steve Clarke and the Tartan Army will certainly take them.

With Scotland defending deeper and deeper in the second half of the game in Nicosia, the familiar feelings of dread roused once more in Scottish hearts, so it was good to see this side having enough about them to see the game through and get their second win in a row heading into Tuesday’s game against Kazakhstan.

It was also refreshing to see Scotland reacting well to losing the equaliser to Cyprus early in the second half. Throughout this section, the Scots have shown a propensity to collapse in the face of such adversity, but this time they hit back almost immediately through McGinn to take the lead once again. And they managed to hold onto it too.

Another win at Hampden on Tueday as they look to take some long-awaited revenge on the Kazakhs, and there will be some good feeling behind the national side at least as they look ahead to March’s play-off fixtures.