After the match that never was, the victory that never materialised. Scotland's prospects of basking in the glow of next year's World Cup finals suffered a surprising and potentially serious setback in the Louis II Stadium last night, when Estonia survived to secure a stalemate in their re-arranged Group Four fixture.
In the end, in fact, it was Scotland who held out. Deep in stoppage time, a rare Estonian breakaway found Andreas Oper bearing down on Andy Goram's goal from the right of the penalty area. Had the substitute rolled the ball inside, Indrek Zelinski would have had a simple tap-in. Instead he fired excitably over the bar, sparing the Scots an indignity that would have ranked with 1990's defeat by Costa Rica.
As it is, Estonia join Luxembourg and Iran on the list of supposedly minor footballing nations who have had cause to celebrate a draw with Scotland. The boisterous Tartan Army contingent, some 2,000-strong, made their displeasure plain by jeering their team off the pitch before rising to the Estonians.
Since many of their number had also made the more arduous trek to the Baltics for the infamous three-second "match'' in October, this was magnanimity beyond the call of duty. The game in Tallinn was abandoned following the home side's failure to turn up after a feud over the floodlighting. This time, Scotland's shortcomings were all too plain to see.
Craig Brown, their manager, had cautioned repeatedly against the temptation merely to pump high ball towards the head of his 6ft 4 in centre-forward, Duncan Ferguson. Despite fielding three midfield players renowned for the quality of their passing, they proceeded to disregard Brown's instructions. In so doing they played into the hands of Estonia's massed defence.
For all that, Scotland ought to have had the points wrapped in the 15 minutes leading up to half-time. Having been surprised by Estonia's early enterprise, which belied their reputation for terminal dourness, they began to lay siege to Mart Poom's goal.
Poom is now back home after failing to establish himself with Portsmouth, yet in that period of frenzied Scottish pressure he exuded an almost Schmeichel- like aura. He used his legs to block a shot by Duncan Ferguson, when the striker found himself in the clear, and made a marvellous one-handed save to keep out Gary McAllister's drive a minute before the interval.
When their keeper was beaten there were invariably sufficient white shirts in attendance to clear the danger. John Collins had one effort hacked off the line by Liivo Leetma, while McAllister's diving header met a similar obstacle in the shape of Urmas Rooba. When the ball broke to Tom Boyd , his shot cannoned out off the underside of the bar.
If the Scottish support expected a similar spate of chances in the second- half, they were to be disappointed. The pressure continued, but it bore a strong resemblance to a series of hopeful punts in the direction of Duncan Ferguson, who had met his match in the lofty Marek Lemsalu.
Brown felt compelled afterwards to apologise for "an extremely disappointing performance - the worst in my three and a bit years in charge." He added: "There is no hiding place and it was not good enough. It could be seriously damaging to our hopes, but it may also be that Estonia will do us favour against Austria and Sweden when they visit Tallinn.
"It would be premature to write us off, but we let ourselves down. We've had lavish praise for some of our performances - so we have to accept justifiable criticism. We resorted to too many long, high balls and simply weren't patient enough."
To compound Scotland's woes, the harsh booking incurred by Collins means that the Monaco midfielder will miss the return against Estonia at Kilmarnock on 29 March - a match which suddenly assumes a significance the Scots can not have anticipated.
ESTONIA: (4-1-4-1): Poom (Flora Tallinn); Kirs, Hohlov-Simson (both Flora), Lemsalu (FSV Mainz 05), U Rooba (Flora); Reim (Flora); Leetma (Lelle SK Tallinn), M Rooba, Alonen, Kristal (all Flora); Zelinski (Flora). Substitutes: Pari (Lelle SK) for M Rooba, 67; Oper (Flora) for Leetma 76.
SCOTLAND: (2-5-3): Goram (Rangers); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn); McNamara, McStay (both Celtic), McAllister (Coventry), Collins (Monaco), Boyd (Celtic; Gallacher (Blackburn), McGinlay (Bolton), D Ferguson (Everton). Substitutes: I Ferguson (Rangers) for McStay 63; McCoist (Rangers) for McGinlay, 73; T McKinlay (Celtic) for McNamara 75.
Referee: M Radoman (Yugoslavia).Reuse content