Football: Tartan Army's hearts aflutter

Simon Turnbull sees Craig Brown's patchwork team scrape to victory
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The Independent Online
THE last time Scotland played at Tynecastle Neville Chamberlain was at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London defending the Munich peace accord and Hitler's Sturmabteilung were wreaking their terror on the day that became known as Kristallnacht. It was on 9 November 1938, when Scotland beat Wales 3-2 that international football last came to the very heart of Midlothian. The half-century wait was not exactly a worthwhile one for the 18,000 souls gathered in Edinburgh's west end.

Had Craig Brown's patched-up team not accounted for Estonia, Scotland would have faced the Faroe Islands on Wednesday without a victory for more than a year. They would have done so with considerable embarrassment too. For 84 minutes their opponents seemed destined to join Iran and Peru in the chapter of famous Scottish football failures. Twice the Baltic side took the lead. Not until Billy Dodds struck his second goal, with six minutes remaining, did Scotland even look like winning.

By the final whistle, Scotland, the team and the nation, were happy enough with a victory - the first since the 2-0 win against Latvia a year ago today that secured World Cup qualification. It seemed back then that Scotland were set fair for France 98 but, such is the dearth of resources, Brown had to take on the world without any firepower in the playing platoon of the Tartan Army. And at the home of Hearts yesterday Scotland's team coach had to take on Estonia without the heart of his team.

The visitors turned up this time, which was more than they did in Tallinn two years ago - and more than Scotland's midfield did yesterday. With an Andertonian pile of sick-notes, it was excusable that Brown himself was suffering from a bad side. In between the 40-year-old Jim Leighton in goal and the 36-year-old Ally McCoist up front, he was obliged to pad the midriff of his team with emergency replacements. Off the international scrap-heap came Ian Durrant, called up for national service for the first time in four years. It was Scotland's traditional, and literal, shortcomings, however, that spread frustration through their ranks.

Brown's father trained parachutists to drop behind enemy lines in World War Two and he must have enjoyed more success than his son did yesterday. Getting behind enemy lines with a vertically-challenged attack (the 5ft 10in McCoist and the 5ft 8in Kevin Gallacher) was never going to be an easy proposition. Allan Johnston and Callum Davidson provided a liberal supply of crosses but Brown's Diddy Men were simply not physically equipped to make use of them.

The introduction of the 5ft 7in Darren Jackson for the injured Gallacher hardly helped. The course of events might have been different had David Weir hit the target with the right-foot drive he dispatched with some venom on the half-hour. As it was, Scotland were overcome by the nerves they had already started to exhibit in defence. The crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief when Colin Hendry and Leighton, in between colliding into one another, managed to clear a ball for a corner. Tynecastle, though, was stunned to silence when two of the 10 Estonians from FC Flora cut through the home guard like a knife through polyunsaturated spread.

Marko Kristal hoisted a corner from the left and Sergei Hohlov-Simson headed over Leighton. It was a double-barrelled blow to the Scottish heart and further damage was to follow, even after Dodds hooked the equaliser with his first touch. When Smirnov restored Estonia's lead Scotland was ready to hit the bottle. Then, in the frantic final 12 minutes, Hohlov- Simson headed past Poom and Dodds drove in the face-saving winner. Hearts, at the heart of Midlothian, were mightily relieved.

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