Football: Dodds rescues Scotland from ignominy

European Championship: Wales and Northern Ireland upset the odds as Craig Brown relies on good luck against Estonia
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Scotland 3 Estonia 2

THERE COULD not have been a more appropriate place for fortune to have favoured the football bravehearts. At the home of the Jam Tarts, as Heart of Midlothian are affectionately known to their followers, Scotland were jammy in the extreme on Saturday.

"It was certainly a get out of jail job," Craig Brown acknowledged in the aftermath. The relieved expression on his faith confirmed as much. For 85 minutes on the Tynecastle touchline, Scotland's coach had worn the white mask of a man condemned.

Scotland, indeed, ought have been condemned to a result of the Iran-cum- Costa Rica order long before the feet of Billy Dodds intervened to play the hand-of-God role. Estonia, with their 10 outfield players from Flora Tallinn, cut so keenly through the butter-soft Scottish defence it was a miracle of the football variety that they failed to spread more damage than the two goals they scored: the looping header with which Sergei Hohlov- Simson gave them the lead 11 minutes before half-time and the tap-in with which Maksim Smirnov put them 2-1 ahead in the 76th minute.

Scotland the nation would have required the anaesthetising power of Smirnoff the drink to overcome the pain and the embarrassment, had the Estonians taken anything like maximal advantage of the chances they enjoyed as the home guard crumbled. Jim Leighton and Colin Hendry may have been conspicuously culpable of granting Hohlov-Simson the goal that spread panic Corporal Jones-like through the Scottish team and the Scottish support but, between them, the veteran last line and the inspirational, if battle-rusty, captain made half-a-dozen last ditch interventions.

Thus, with the boos ringing round Tynecastle and the whiff of insurrection in the air, Scotland snatched their first win for one day short of a year from the jaws of what would have been their most damaging result outside of the World Cup finals. They did so with the dynamic Dodds leading the charge.

The Dundee United forward was just another suffering Scotsman on the sidelines until he was released from bench duty in the 69th minute. With his first touch, he scored Scotland's first equaliser, a left-footed hook shot from six yards after Callum Davidson had diverted Allan Johnston's right-wing cross into his path. With his mobile presence, he unsettled Hohlov-Simson sufficiently for the Estonian central defender to score Scotland's second. Then, with five minutes remaining, he hammered in the low right-foot shot which secured victory.

The natives, restless no more, went home happily paying homage to Scotland's goalscoring saviour. And nobody could have begrudged this particular Billy his hour of glory as a face-saving hero.

For one thing, Dodds was denied his first cap when Estonia famously failed to turn up in Tallinn two years ago, despite being one of two players to touch the ball in the three seconds of the match that never was. More significantly, in the real world beyond the boundaries of the football pitch, the 29-year-old has endured a difficult year, with the death of his sister, Barbara, whose children he has adopted.

It seems certain that Dodds, who left Aberdeen a month ago, will return to Pittodire on Wednesday night with a place in Scotland's starting line- up against the Faroe Islands. His 21-minute cameo on Saturday warranted as much. But his striking assets probably would have been required from the kick off in any case.

The dearth of forward power Brown has at his disposal was glaringly evident until Dodds' timely introduction at Tynecastle. The ageing Ally McCoist made little impression and neither did Kevin Gallacher, in the 17 minutes before his departure with a fractured left arm, or Darren Jackson.

All three lacked the height they needed to exploit the crosses which came their way from the debutant Johnston on the right and the impressively assured Davidson on the left. It was impossible not to empathise with Brown as his team of strictly limited talents - merely functional at the best of times, without the 10 withdrawals which further depleted them on Saturday - became a frustrated bundle of frayed nerves after making a confident enough start.

"I wouldn't say that, overall, it was a dreadful performance," Brown said, "but at times the defending was atrocious. At this level you just can't afford the kind of mistakes we made."

And Scotland, given their level of playing resources, can ill afford the additions they made to their already-lengthy casualty list on Saturday: Davidson, with six stitches in the head wound he suffered in the clash that prompted Marko Kristal's contentious dismissal, and Gallacher, with his broken arm.

At least, though, Scottish hearts were not broken at Tynecastle on Saturday.

Goals: Hohlov-Simson (35) 0-1; Dodds (70) 1-1; Smirnov (76) 1-2; Hohlov- Simson og (78) 2-2; Dodds (85) 3-2.

Scotland (3-4-1-2): Leighton (Aberdeen); Calderwood (Tottenham Hotspur), Hendry (Rangers), Boyd (Celtic); Weir (Hearts), Durrant (Kilmarnock), McKinlay (Blackburn Rovers), Davidson (Blackburn); Johnston (Sunderland); McCoist (Kilmarnock), Gallacher (Blackburn). Substitutes: Jackson (Celtic) for Gallacher 17 mins, Dodds (Dundee United) for McCoist 69 mins, Donnelly (Celtic) for Calderwood 71 mins.

Estonia (4-4-2): Poom (Derby County); Kirs, Hohlov-Simson, Reim, Rooba; Kristal, Smirnov, Alonen, Terehhov; Oper, Zelinski (all Flora Tallinn). Substitute: Vikmae (Flora) for Zelinski 88 mins.

Referee: J Marques (Portugal).

Bookings: Scotland Jackson; Estonia Alonen. Sending-off: Estonia: Kristal.

Attendance: 16,930.

Man of the match: Oper.