A CAMPAIGN that began with disaster and despair back in March with that 3-0 defeat at the hands of Kazakhtsan came to an end last night on an altogether more positive note with this hard-fought victory over the same opponents at Hampden.

Automatic qualification for the Euro 2020 finals may not, due to that calamitous opening reverse and subsequent losses to Belgium and Russia both home and away, have been secured.

The national team, however, still managed to achieve their objective of finishing third in Group I and will go into the play-off semi-final in March against either Bulgaria, Israel or Romania with much-needed momentum behind them and justifiable hopes of progressing to the tournament proper.

The ease with which Baktiyor Zainutdinov was allowed to net in the first-half highlighted once again that the defensive deficiencies which have cost Scotland so dear this year – they conceded no fewer than 19 goals in their 10 matches – still need to be addressed.


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But there was much to be encouraged by. Not least the showing of John McGinn, who took his tally for this campaign to seven with a second-half double, just off lone striker Steven Naismith. He has emerged as a potent weapon up front for his country and then some since Steve Clarke succeeded Alex McLeish as manager. Only Artem Dzyuba or Russia and Romelu Lukaku or Belgium have been on target as often as him in the section.

Naismith, who bagged his 10th international goal on the occasion of his 51st cap, to put Scotland 2-1 ahead also excelled. But there were no failures. Some of their play in the final third in the second-half was impressive. They margin of victory could have been more emphatic.

With captain Andy Robertson, Ryan Fraser, Leigh Griffiths, Scott McTominay, Charlie Mulgrew and Kieran Tierney, outstanding players who will all be hoping to start when fit, absent last night there are reasons to be optimistic that better times may, at long last, lie ahead.

Clarke fielded exactly the same starting line-up which had taken to the field against Cyprus in Nicosia on Saturday. There were only five survivors from the opening game eight months earlier; Liam Palmer, Scott McKenna, Callum McGregor, James Forrest and McGinn all got the chance to avenge their previous humiliation.

The home side controlled possession early on without troubling Dmytro Nepogodov in the visiting goal. When the away team launched a counter attack with numbers in the 16th minute the longsuffering members of the Tartan Army must have experienced a horrible sense of déjà vu.

Dmitri Shomko picked out Aleksei Shetkin with a diagonal pass on the edge of the six yard box, but the Kazakhstan striker’s subsequent shot lacked power and was easily dealt with by Scotland keeper David Marshall.


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The scheduling of this game on a bitterly cold Tuesday evening in November as well as the quality of the opposition both contributed greatly to the poor attendance. But the apathy towards the national team after yet another failed qualification attempt also played a part.

Hopefully the first play-off game at Hampden on March 26, the draw for which will be made in Nyon on Friday, and then, should they go through, the final will attract far larger turnouts. Last night was, understandably given the circumstances, a flat affair. The subdued atmosphere did nothing to lift skipper Naismith and his team mates as they sought to take the lead.

McGinn fired wide and both Forrest and Christie had attempts saved by Negpogodov. But too often their final ball left much to be desired. They could find no way through a well-drilled and resolute rearguard.

Michal Bilek’s men experienced little resistance when they opened the scoring against the run of play in the 34th minute. McKenna, who had endured a night to forget against Kazakhstan first time around, was once again culpable. The centre half stood off Zainutdinov allowing the midfielder to rifle a left foot piledriver beyond Marshall from fully 20 yards out.

Ryan Jack should have equalised six minutes before half-time after barging through Sergei Maliy and Yuri Logvinenko. He shot straight at Nepogodov. Christie then shelled a free-kick over the crossbar in added-on time at the end of the opening 45 minutes. You got the feeling it was going to be another one of those evenings for Scotland.


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But whatever Clarke said to his charges in the dressing room had the desired impact. They upped their tempo from kick-off in the second-half and drew level just three minutes later after Naismith had been brought down by Yuri Pertsukh just outside the Kazakhstan area. McGinn’s free-kick deflected off Bauyrzhan Islamkhan and beyond Nepogodov.

Forrest and Naismith each squandered gilt-edged chances to put their team ahead after the equaliser following well-worked attacking moves. They both went agonisingly close to finding their target. McGregor, too, had a shot deflected out for a corner. Still, it was far better and their next goal was deserved.

Palmer did well to force his way to the goalline and cut the ball back in the 64th minute. It arched high into the air off the outstretched leg of Yuri Logvinenko. Naismith was waiting to nod it in when it came down. The scorer was replaced by Oliver Burke shortly after and John Fleck also came on for Christie. McGinn added a second in injury-time after good work by Greg Taylor before making way for Stuart Armstrong.