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Lucky break stopped darkness descending upon Scotland’s bright, new dawn

Oli Burke celebrates his winner.
Oli Burke celebrates his winner.

The bright, new dawn was also plunged back into darkness.

Successful managers are supposed to need as much luck as ability and that certainly was the case for new Scotland boss Steve Clarke against Cyprus at Hampden on Saturday night.

Had the ball rebounded off the post and away from substitute Oli Burke rather than straight back to his feet then the Scots would have been out of contention in Euro 2020 qualifying group I.

With favourites Belgium having shown the Scots how to beat Kazakhstan, winning 3-0 at home, and Russia blasting nine goals past San Marino without reply, a 1-1 draw would have seen a big, black cloud gather over Clarke and his team.

However, the former Kilmarnock gaffer got his stroke of fortune with just one minute left on the clock and it was thanks to a player he didn’t even think merited a start.

In truth, for most of the clash with the Cypriots the Scots were pretty unconvincing.

They lacked spark in midfield and were ineffective in attack for long spells. At the other end, goalkeeper David Marshall was a lot busier than expected.

Also, the defending at the visitors’ goal was dreadful, with Ioannis Kousoulos left completely unmarked at a corner.

What they did do, though, was dig deep and win the match.

That is what matters most and it was nice to see the normally reserved Clarke dance for joy around the technical area when Robertson and, in particular, Burke scored.

He hailed his men for handling the pressure and staying alive in their group ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Belgium.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke celebrates his side’s opener.

Clarke said: “I’m pleased for the players.

“I thought the way they have worked going into the game that we would be good enough to win the game.

“We certainly put ourselves in a position to win the game with a great strike from Andy Robertson.

“From there I thought we had really good control of the match.

“I couldn’t see Cyprus scoring from open play but unfortunately we switched off from a set-play and got severely punished for it.

“After that, the character of the players to come back and the resilience shone through. It would have been easy for them to feel sorry for themselves but they didn’t and I think that bodes well for the future.

“It’s difficult for me to be too critical of the players,” he added.

“They gave us three points and they couldn’t have done any more.

“It was a game that came with a lot of pressure. We didn’t speak about it much beforehand but we knew if we didn’t take maximum points the group was almost beyond us.

“So I think we should credit the players and maybe not look too much at one or two little mistakes that we can improve on.”

Clarke rode an emotional rollercoaster on the sidelines  but he enjoyed it.

“I loved it,” insisted the former Kilmarnock manager.

“I loved the pre-match, I loved the national anthem and I liked the Tartan Army. I thought they got right behind the team and I’m glad we could send them home with a smile on their face.”

Clarke had raised a few eyebrows with his team selection.

He went back to his former club Killie to pick Eamonn Brophy and throw him straight in for his debut up front.

As much – if not more of – a surprise was the decision to put Marshall in goal instead of Scott Bain.

James Forrest was the first to threaten for the Scots on five minutes when he shot just over after the ball was played to him by Ryan Fraser.

Some dodgy defending from the hosts almost created a chance for the Cypriots on 18 minutes but Marshall held the strike from Antreas Makris.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson strikes to make it 1-0.

The home team came close on 27 minutes when Charlie Mulgrew’s freekick required a fine save from keeper Urko Pardo. From the resultant corner, Brophy tried to sneak a header in at the back post but was off balance.

Five minutes before the break, the visitors broke upfield and it took the outstretched arm of Marshall to push away Pieros Sotiriou’s low shot.

Robertson fired a shot over from a tight angle to get the second half under way.

Four minutes after the restart, Forrest waltzed through the Cyprus defence but couldn’t find the finish then the Cypriots broke through Matija Spoljaric but his low shot was saved.

The Scots seemed jaded and unimaginative in the final third and it would need something special to break the deadlock.

It duly arrived on 61 minutes from the blessed left boot of Liverpool legend Robertson, the former Dundee United defender lashing the ball home from 20 yards to make it 1-0.

It was a superb strike that brought life to a hitherto dull Scots display.

Cyprus nearly got one back on 78 minutes when Makris’s shot deflected off Scott McKenna’s boot and Marshall had to push the ball over for a corner.

Seconds later, Scotland attacked through Stephen O’Donnell, who clipped his shot over goalie Pardo but it trickled a few inches wide of the far post.

However, it all went horribly wrong for the Scots with just three minutes remaining.

With no marking whatsoever, Kousoulos nodded home to send jitters around the stadium.

However, Celtic frontman Burke, who had replaced Brophy on 73 minutes, saved his team when he headed Fraser’s cross from the left on to the post then sidefooted the rebound into the net.

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