The Czech Republic won the section as long ago as June, seemingly leaving Scotland, Bosnia and Lithuania to contest the play-off spot. To confuse matters further, Estonia leapt from second bottom to second top before this match kicked off, although Scotland's hosts of next Wednesday have only two games remaining compared with three for Craig Brown's men.
Scotland were not short of support, with 1,000 British soldiers serving in the Balkans joining 300 Tartan Army regulars in the large, open bowl of a ground. Behind where they had congregated was one of the city's innumerable sprawling cemeteries, full of war dead, serving as a reminder of the sacrifices Bosnians have endured in order to enjoy watching their countrymen play as an independent nation.
Faruk Hadzibegic, the home coach, may have surprised Brown by throwing three players forward from the start. Scotland created the first half- chance, when Hutchison was muscled off the ball by Coventry's Muhamed Konjic, but the Bosnians' positive policy saw Scotland living dangerously in the early stages.
Twice in as many minutes the home team sliced through the left side of a sluggish defence. First Meho Kodro slipped Colin Hendry with alarming ease, and the Scotland captain was relieved to see the ensuing cut-back rammed over his own bar by David Hopkin. Then it was Omer Joldic's turn to expose Neil McCann's defensive fallibility, leaving the winger floundering as he crossed for Sergei Barbarez to head straight at Neil Sullivan.
Hopkin's prodigious throwing ability led to Scotland going in front against the run of play in the 13th minute. Mirsad Dedic made a horrible hash of trying to catch the ball, eventually conceding a corner. The keeper could not hold on to Dodds' header either, enabling Hutchison to mark his second cap for his adopted country with his second goal from point- blank range.
Bizarrely, another Scotland corner, 10 minutes later, led to Bosnia equalising. When the ball was cleared, Barry Ferguson's pass to McCann was easily intercepted by Sejad Halilovic, who sent Elvir Bolic sprinting clear of an over-committed defence. The Turkish-based Bolic waltzed round Sullivan before sliding an angled shot past Colin Calderwood's lunge on the line.
But in the final seconds of the first half, Scotland regained the initiative in stunning style. Dodds, jinking across the pitch and apparently looking to find a colleague, suddenly un-leashed a rising drive from 22 yards with his weaker, left foot which left Dedic clawing at fresh air.
The Scots continued to be their own worst enemies, however, and almost conceded another goal following a corner of their own. None of the blue- shirted defenders who had scampered back after Hopkin lost possession had thought to mark Bolic before he curled his shot beyond Sullivan but also past the far post.
The narrow escape ensured a torrid introduction for Christian Dailly, replacing Calderwood in a revamped Scottish rearguard.
Despite the switch, Hopkin was effectively playing at right-back, often marking the dangerous Bolic, while David Weir's unease on the left was highlighted when Marco Topic raced past him and cut into the penalty area before dragging his shot across the face of the goal.
The precocious Ferguson, 21 years old and making his first starting appearance, showed glimpses of his undoubted quality on the ball. Unfortunately for Scotland, the aberration which presented Bosnia with their goal was not the only occasion he needlessly gave the ball away.
Midway through the second half, indeed, Scotland were being pushed back deep into their own 18-yard area. After one corner, delivered from the left, Topic headed goalwards but found Hopkin waiting to hack the ball to safety.
With 20 minutes remaining, Hendry also cleared off the line, from Bolic's drive, while the introduction of Ian Durrant for Ferguson was a sign that Brown recognised the need to stem the flow towards Sullivan's goal and guard three potentially priceless points.Reuse content