Scotland beat spirited Gibraltar following frantic first half
Hosts Scotland returned to their renovated national stadium, Hampden Park, knowing that a big win would put them in a great position in their tough Euro 2016 qualifying pool.
In their upcoming visitors Gibraltar, they faced a side that had scored none and conceded 21 goals from their first four Group D games.
While it didn’t all go Scotland’s way, as they conceded to UEFA’s newest members, they did claim a crucial 6-1 victory that puts them firmly in the hunt to qualify for the France finals. Coral make Gordon Strachan’s side 11/10 chances to be at Euro 2016.
Scotland now have 10 points after five fixtures, while Gibraltar remain bottom at the halfway stage in this pool with none. The Tartan Army had plenty of reasons to be cheerful in their team’s first outing at Hampden since the stadium hosted the Commonwealth Games track and field athletics.
As expected, Scotland were on the attack early on, and Steven Fletcher had the first real chance, but his headed shot was straight at Gibraltar goalie Jamie Robba, who is seemingly his side’s number one after replacing Jordan Perez three matches ago against Republic of Ireland.
Gibraltar, though, then had a surprising attack in which stopper David Marshall was caught off guard from a cross. GFA had a free-kick from the passage of play, and Farsley forward Adam Priestly almost caught onto Liam Walker’s curling cross.
The visitors looked more comfortable after unsettling Scotland, and the lively Walker, a former Portsmouth playmaker, had a half-chance after turning brilliantly, but his long-ranged shot was poor.
Scotland were on the attack once more soon after, though, but again a strike was straight at the keeper, this time an effort from Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie.
After a spirited display by Gibraltar in the opening 15 minutes, their hard work was undone when Robba inexplicably came out to down Shaun Maloney, when the ball was seemingly going out. Molaney then converted with a well-placed shot to the bottom left corner.
However, moments later the Scottish defence were caught sleeping, and Lincoln Red Imps attacker Lee Casciaro took advantage by firing into the corner of the net to score his side’s first ever competitive goal, as he latched onto a wonderfully weight pass from Aaron Payas.
Casciaro, who is a policeman for his day job, joins his brother, Kyle, who struck in a friendly against Malta, in netting for Gibraltar – the nation’s fourth since becoming a UEFA member.
Scotland seemed shocked by what happened, but carried on attacking and Everton star Steven Naismith went through on goal, but Robba saved well.
Gibraltar managed to contain the hosts for the following minutes, until Fletcher netted his first international goal in six years, as he headed in beyond the reach of Robba.
Glasgow-born GFA interim coach David Wilson’s men attempted to get another immediate reply, but Priestly was unable to convert.
After the half-hour mark, Scotland gained another penalty, as Naismith went to floor after a soft challenge from scorer Casciaro. Maloney converted again in the same spot.
Fletcher had another chance to score but his cool poke hit the post and out for a goal kick.
Watford winger Ikechi Anya was Scotland’s creator for much of the half, and he found Naismith in the box to make it 4-1.
After a frantic first half, it started slow after the break. But after the hour mark, Fletcher could and should have scored after a great ball from Alan Hutton, but he scuffed the shot completely.
Substitute Jordan Rhodes had a great chance in the final quarter of the match, after latching onto fellow replacement Barry Bannan’s long ball, but his shot was wide.
But Fletcher made snatched his second of the game moments later, heading in from close range to score his side’s fifth.
In the final minutes, Rhodes had another great opportunity, but his stinging shot was matched by Robba.
Bannan also had the chance to increase Scotland’s lead from a free-kick, but again the keeper was equal to it, tipping over the bar.
But Fletcher completed his hat-trick soon after, and the first Scot to do so since 1969, with a calm curled finish into the bottom corner. The Sunderland striker could have had fourth deep into injury time, to match Colin Stein’s feat too 46 years ago, but was wide.
Scotland kept piling on the pressure, and Rhodes had another simple chance to get his fourth international strike, but Robba held onto his tame shot.
Despite Gibraltar scoring, Strachan will be happy to gain three points and a five-goal advantage, especially since Germany managed to only beat them 4-0 at home. Only a point from Group D’s summit, it is still a tall order to finish top of this pool, with odds of 14/1 available for Scotland to do that.