The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)

LAST SAY ON DAY OF FIRSTS CYPRUS 1 SCOT­LAND 2

But Scot­land will have to do bet­ter than this to qual­ify through the play-offs

- Sports · Scotland, Maryland · Nicosia · Scotland · Christie's · Cyprus · Kazakhstan · Aston Villa Football Club · Celtic F.C. · Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. · Aberdeenshire · Aberdeen F.C. · Motherwell F.C. · San Marino · Steve Clarke

It was a day of firsts in Ni­cosia for Steve Clarke’s Scot­land. The man­ager cel­e­brated his first away win since tak­ing charge while Ryan Christie opened his ac­count for his coun­try, cap­ping a fine in­di­vid­ual dis­play with one of the pre­cious few mo­ments of qual­ity to help set­tle this Euro 2020 qual­i­fier dead rub­ber in his side’s favour.

Christie’s sub­lime fin­ish set Scot­land on their way to a morale­boost­ing away win in Cyprus, with John McGinn’s goal early in the sec­ond half prov­ing the win­ner.

But aside from the two goals it is clear the Scots still have much room for im­prove­ment before they play their Na­tions League semi-fi­nal in March next year.

There is one game left for Clarke to run the rule over his side in the shape of to­mor­row’s fi­nal qual­i­fier against Kaza­khstan at Ham­p­den. An­other vic­tory would make it three-in-a-row to end a mis­er­able cam­paign on a bright note.

But make no mis­take, Scot­land need to be bet­ter than they were in Ni­cosia.

A re­peat of the sec­ond-half dis­play in par­tic­u­lar just will not cut it when the per­for­mance and the re­sult re­ally counts in the spring – and Clarke knows it.

He said: “I won’t sit here and say it was a fan­tas­tic per­for­mance but it was a good one. We needed to win after the run we’ve been on and it sets us up for the Kaza­khstan game on Tues­day.

“We have things we can im­prove on in the team. If you want to be re­ally good and scin­til­lat­ing go­ing for­ward you have to sac­ri­fice de­fen­sively. We’re still a work in progress but I feel we are get­ting bet­ter.

“For me and the squad of play­ers brought out here it was re­ally im­por­tant to win the game. The proof will be in the pud­ding in March. We have a four-month break after Tues­day and hope­fully ev­ery­one will be fit and avail­able.”

Clarke has had lit­tle to smile about since suc­ceed­ing Alex

McLeish but he surely af­forded him­self a wry grin after just five min­utes when Cyprus were de­nied a good goal.

Striker Ge­or­gios Efrem made space for him­self just in­side the box before fir­ing a shot which struck the cross­bar before bounc­ing down over the line. But the Aus­trian of­fi­cials failed to award what looked a clear goal.

Clarke, how­ever, was non-com­mit­tal.

He said: “I’ve seen the stills but they can be con­fus­ing. It is very dif­fi­cult to say that ball is over the line and if the of­fi­cials have the same doubt they can­not give the goal. I’m not sure the whole ball is over the line.

To add in­sult to the Cypriot in­jury the Scots broke the dead­lock seven min­utes later with their first sight of goal.

As­ton Villa mid­fielder John McGinn turned his marker before pass­ing the ball out to Ryan Christie.

The Celtic mid­fielder drove for­ward and, with no Cypriot de­fender clos­ing him down, the for­mer Ca­ley This­tle and Aberdeen man had time to look up and pick his spot – which he did bril­liantly by curl­ing the ball high past home goal­keeper Urko Pardo to make it 1-0 to the vis­i­tors.

It was a sore one for Cyprus, who had been bright in the open­ing stages. But they con­tin­ued to ask ques­tions of the Scots de­fence and it re­quired a fine save from David Mar­shall to keep out Pieros Sotiriou’s

pow­er­ful low shot. That was as close as the home side came to an equaliser in the first half but it did not take them long to re­store par­ity after the in­ter­val.

Mother­well de­fender De­clan Gal­lagher headed a free kick clear but the ball broke to Efrem, who showed tech­nique and power sim­i­lar to his ear­lier ef­fort that was not given.

But this time the ball flew past Mar­shall into the top cor­ner of the Scot­land net.

As was the case when the sides last met at Ham­p­den in June, Cyprus were not level for long. In fact it was all-square for just six min­utes and it was Scot­land who got the im­por­tant goal to re-es­tab­lish their lead.

James For­rest cre­ated it, teas­ing and tor­ment­ing two Cypriot de­fend­ers out wide before a clever pass re­leased Greg Tay­lor and the left back’s cross into the box was met by McGinn to score with a fine, first-time fin­ish.

From there it was a case of dig­ging in and, while Scot­land sur­vived a few late scares, Clarke will not be fooled.

He knows his team can and must im­prove and added: “It was im­por­tant to build on the San Marino vic­tory. We al­ways knew it would be dif­fi­cult as it was also dif­fi­cult in June.

“We con­ceded a goal to a won­der­ful strike but we got our noses back in front with a good goal before show­ing some re­silience to get the re­sult we wanted.”

 ??  ?? THE GOALS: John McGinn hits Scot­land’s win­ner with, insets, Ryan Christie’s sub­lime opener in the 13th minute
THE GOALS: John McGinn hits Scot­land’s win­ner with, insets, Ryan Christie’s sub­lime opener in the 13th minute
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 ??  ?? of the match and Ge­or­gios Efrem’s Cyprus lev­eller
of the match and Ge­or­gios Efrem’s Cyprus lev­eller

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