Football: Hartson's strike gives Wales heart

Scotland 0 Wales 1
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The Independent Online
John Hartson proved the match-winner for Wales on a night when the Scottish experiment proved inconclusive. If Craig Brown, the Scotland coach, had hoped the introduction of three new faces into his defence would give his side a solid look ahead of the World Cup match in Belarus on Sunday week he cannot, on this evidence, be confident of keeping a tight ship.

There was no Colin Hendry, Colin Calderwood or Alan McLaren, all missing through injury, and in their absence Tom Boyd, Brian McAllister and David Weir formed the defence. In the air they looked particularly vulnerable.

The goal came from a misjudgement by Brian McAllister. Less than two minutes after the restart he failed to clear on the edge of his own penalty area, allowing Hartson the chance to sweep in a fine shot, as the ball fell, for his first international goal in nine appearances.

Hartson's goal highlighted Scotland's defensive problems, yet equally worrying for Brown will be the lack of a cutting edge. The midfield play was tidy, with Scot Gemmill and Gary McAllister productive, but Billy Dodds and Kevin Gallacher were incapable of capitalising on the chances which were created.

Gallacher on two occasions came close to connecting with crosses in the first half, and on a third his shot on the turn saw the ball fly across the face of goal, while Dodds, who worked hard throughout, had two efforts well saved by Andy Marriott.

Gary McAllister saw a free-kick deflected on to the bar in the second period and Scotland were denied late penalty claims when Simon Donnelly tumbled inside the area. Those chances apart, the Scots' attack foundered on a solid Welsh defence, in which Gary Speed grew in confidence in the sweeper role.

The options in attack for Brown are limited. Darren Jackson performed well before leaving the action at half-time, while Gordon Durie and Ally McCoist are carrying injuries. John Collins and Paul Lambert will both be available for the Belarus game and Brown will hope those two, if selected, will possess the eye for a telling pass.

The Scots require a win in Minsk to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for France, and will have another opportunity in which to prepare when they take on Malta this Sunday.

Scotland should keep a sense of perspective over this result as, on this evidence, Wales appear to be getting their game together again. In injury time a snap-shot from Liverpool's Lee Jones, a late substitute, hit the bar with Jim Leighton well beaten, and Hartson particularly looked more than capable.

There was some cheer for the supporters in a disappointingly small crowd at the half-time interval, when the victorious Kilmarnock side paraded, on their home ground, the Scottish Cup they won last Saturday by beating Falkirk at Ibrox. There was little else to cheer...

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Weir (Heart of Midlothian), Boyd (Celtic), B McAllister (Wimbledon); Dailly (Derby), Gemmill (Nottingham Forest), G McAllister (Coventry), D Jackson (Hibernian), T McKinlay (Celtic); Dodds (Aberdeen), Gallacher (Blackburn). Substitutes: Spencer (Queen's Park Rangers) for Jackson, h-t; Leighton (Hibernian) for Sullivan, 80; Donnelly (Celtic) for Gallacher, 80.

WALES (4-4-2): Marriott (Wrexham); Jenkins (Huddersfield), Page (Watford), Speed (Everton), Symons (Manchester City); Robinson (Charlton), Savage (Crewe), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Trollope (Derby); Saunders (Nottingham Forest), Hartson (West Ham). Substitutes: P Jones (Stockport) for Marriott, h-t; Haworth (Cardiff) for Hartson, 71; L Jones (Liverpool) for Saunders, 80; Browning (Huddersfield) for Robinson, 88.

Referee: A Snoddy (Northern Ireland).

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