Football: Leighton saves Scots blushes

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Scotland 2 Boyd 25, Meet og 52 Estonia 0

Attendance: 17,996

The World Cup came to the home of Johnnie Walker whisky yesterday and Craig Brown was doubtless relieved to have no need for a medicinal dram after his Scotland side overcame Estonia at the third time of asking. Beaten by Fifa and the floodlights in Tallinn last October and unable to play a winning hand in Monte Carlo last month, they finally saw off the boys from the Baltic on Ayrshire soil at Kilmarnock.

There was no rugby score for the 17,996 crowd at Rugby Park, though. The Tartan Army had to be grateful for a couple of scrambled efforts, Tom Boyd's first for his country and Janek Meet's first for Scotland too.

The Estonian's own-goal, six minutes into the second half, put the outcome beyond reasonable doubt, though the absence of a Scottish forward from the scoring sheet gave reason for lingering frustration as Brown looked forward to Wednesday night's meeting with Austria at Celtic Park.

It will have concerned the Scotland coach, too, that Jim Leighton was called upon to rescue his outfield colleagues too often for home comfort. The man Alec Ferguson deemed past his top-class sell-by date seven years ago staked a strong claim for man-of-the-match honours, after making vital saves to deny Kristen Viikmae and Meelis Rooba in the last 15 minutes.

Brown had suggested that the afternoon "should be just like our five- a-side shooting exercises". Given Scotland's World Cup history, however, it remained to be seen whether it would be a shooting in the foot exercise instead. The wound left by failing to beat Mart Poom in Monte Carlo was only six weeks old, Estonia having taken their place alongside Iran, Peru and Zaire in the litany of football's nether-region nations to have gleaned reflected glory from self-inflicted Scottish embarrassments on the global stage.

Scotland's finest, in fact, were unable to do in Monaco what Leicester City achieved four times in Poom's last match on British soil, his dying- swan song as Portsmouth left the trusty custodian over-exposed at Filbert Street in August 1995.

Jim Smith's pounds 1.5m midweek investment for Derby County could be excused for not feeling daunted by the attack which faced him yesterday. The two men at the intended sharp end of Brown's 3-5-2 formation, Darren Jackson and Kevin Gallacher, boasted a collective tally of three goals in 39 international appearances between them. At 5ft 7in and 5ft 8in respectively they were vertically as well as goal-scoringly challenged too. The home offensive was clearly going to be ground-based and the nimble Jackson showed early promise of prising a vital first opening though it soon became apparent that the Hibernian striker had been instructed to drift back into the overcrowded midfield. This, presumably, was with the intention of opening a supply line to Gallacher. Instead, rather predictably, it left the Blackburn Rover more often than not in not so splendid isolation.

It was no real surprise that the first threat was posed to the goal that Leighton, Jackson's Hibernian colleague, was defending. Leighton's contact lenses were probably steaming up at the sight of Anders Oper racing clear after Scot Gemmill conceded possession in Estonia's half. The veteran keeper, at 38, winning his 76th cap, showed admirable composure, however, as he performed his emergency left-back role to clear the imminent danger. The Tartan Army breathed a collective sigh of relief at that escape but was seething after 20 minutes when Gallacher was dispossessed, Oper found Viikmae and the winger from F C Flora produced a butter-soft finish, chipping tamely into Leighton's arms.

It was not until the midway point in the opening half that Scotland started to make headway, Marak Lemsalu, Estonia's captain, nicking the ball off Gary McAllister's toes as the Scottish skipper was setting his sights on goal after successfully by- passing the rest of the opposition defence with a wall-pass to Gemmill.

Four minutes later McAllister and his men were celebrating. It was no goal of the month contender; not that Boyd or anyone other than the Baltic visitors were bothered. The Celt issued with a licence to roam from his nominal position alongside Colin Hendry and Colin Calderwood in Scotland's back three, hooked the ball high into the net after Poom parried a Gallacher shot and Gemmill's follow-up effort was blocked.

Scotland: Leighton (Hibernian), Burley (Chelsea), Boyd (Celtic), Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), T McKinlay (Hibernian), Gemmill (Nottingham Forest), McStay (Celtic), Jackson (Hibernian), G McAllister (Coventry), Gallacher (Blackburn).

Substitutes: Sullivan (Wimbledon), B McAllister (Wimbledon), B McKinlay (Blackburn), Lambert (Borussia Dortmund), McCoist (Rangers), McGinlay (Bolton), Jess (Coventry).

Estonia: Poom, Lemsalu, Kirs, Hohlov- Simson, Zelinski, Meet, Pari, Kristal, Reim, Oper, Viikmae. Substitutes: Kaalma, Arbeter, Rooba, Allas, Leetma, Nommik.

Referee: Bernd Heynemann (Ger).