In his programme welcome, the President of the Lativan FA ventured the view that "Scottman's (sic) desire to struggle is as if sucked in almost from Mother's milk." You knew what he was getting at, yet there was a business-like manner about the way Scotland approached their task which suggested they had no intention of struggling this time.
Craig Brown, the Scotland coach, had opted for another new attacking partnership, comprising Darren Jackson and John Spencer, neither of whom had mustered a goal in their aggregate of 24 caps. Jackson, in particular, made a lively, mobile start which frustrated his marker, Igors Stepanovs, into three crude challenges during the first half.
The first, after Gary McAllister had released Jackson with a long pass in the fourth minute, ought to have produced a caution. The Czech referee was evidently not running the game from the Premiership manual, but as the free-kick broke down, McAllister's goal-bound drive was touched over by Olegs Karavajevs at full stretch.
Stepanovs' next violation of the Hibernian striker still could not coax Mr Ulrich into reaching for a card. No matter: Scotland imposed a far more severe penalty by scoring from a superbly executed free-kick routine. Stuart McCall began it innocuously by rolling the ball short to John Collins who appeared merely to be holding the ball up for McAllister. At the last second, Collins spun away and unleashed a left-footed drive from 18 yards beyond Karavajevs for his ninth goal in 38 internationals.
While Jackson, McAllister and Derek Whyte were all close to doubling the advantage, Latvia found it hard to translate technical ability into scoring opportunities. To cap the impression of events moving Scotland's way, Stepanovs pursued his one-man vendetta against Jackson and was finally cautioned as half-time beckoned.
Scotland were tantalisingly close to a second goal on 49 minutes. Collins initiated the move, setting Jackson free to outpace Jurijs Sevlakovs on the right flank. Spencer connected well with his partner's low cross, only for the diving goalkeeper to push his shot wide.
A full-blooded shot by Andrejs Stolcers, which whistled past the post, was a warning that even a momentary relaxation of their vigilance might diminish the significance of Collins' virtuosity.
The previously uncapped Billy Dodds joined the fray at its scrappiest juncture, a spell in which both McAllister and Collins were cautioned. Scotland never lived more dangerously than in the 72nd minute, when Andy Goram made a brilliant one-handed save from Mihails Zemlinskis and as the ball squirmed loose, Vits Rimkus appeared certain to score. But Collins cleared off the line, and Scotland made good their escape with a second goal 12 minutes from time. Jackson, after dispossessing a defender, advanced before calmly slotting the ball past the onrushing keeper for a richly deserved goal.
A stunning late save by Goram, from a header by Vitalijs Astafjevs, protected Scotland's clean sheet. The only disappointment for Brown was thet McAllister's booking means he will miss the game in Estonia through suspension.
Latvia (3-5-2): Karavajevs (FSV Zwickau); Troickis (Skonto Riga), Stepanovs (Skonto), Sevlakovs (Skonto); Bleidelis (Skonto), Astafjevs (FK Austria Vienna), Zemlinskis (Skonto), Pahars (Skonto), V Ivanovs (Skonto); Babicevs (Skonto), Rimkus (Nuremberg).
Subs: Stolcers (Skonto) for Babicevs h-t; Bulders (FC Stadler) for Rimkus 78.
Scotland (3-5-2): Goram (Rangers); Calderwood (Tottenham), Boyd (Celtic), Whyte (Middlesbrough); Burley (Chelsea), McCall (Rangers), G McAllister (Coventry), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic); Jackson (Hibernian), Spencer (Chelsea). Subs: Lambert (Borussia Dortmund) for McCall h-t; Dodds (Aberdeen) for Spencer 59; McNamara for T McKinlay 80
Referee: J Ulrich (Czech Republic).Reuse content