Brown's relief is born in England

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The Independent Football

To the raucous refrain of "Keegan's on the dole", lustily sung by 3,000 Scots, European football's longest-serving international manager took another small step towards the World Cup finals in 2002 here last night. Yet Craig Brown had to admit that San Marino's part-timers had made Scotland work and wait for their victory, secured by the English-born duo of Matt Elliott and Don Hutchison as the contest entered its final 20 minutes.

To the raucous refrain of "Keegan's on the dole", lustily sung by 3,000 Scots, European football's longest-serving international manager took another small step towards the World Cup finals in 2002 here last night. Yet Craig Brown had to admit that San Marino's part-timers had made Scotland work and wait for their victory, secured by the English-born duo of Matt Elliott and Don Hutchison as the contest entered its final 20 minutes.

Until then, Scotland had laboured to finds a way past the agile San Marino goalkeeper, a student-cum-supermarket worker called Federico Gasperoni. But within two minutes of Elliott's first goal for the country of his deceased grandmother, Hutchison collected his sixth in 12 internationals with a sweetly taken second.

This morning the Scots move on to Zagreb for Wednesday's match with Croatia, after which the Group Six pattern should be considerably clearer. Craig Burley joins them tomorrow after successful treatment for back pain, while Brown also hopes Dominic Matteo will be fit to link up with the squad.

Also flying out - to Glasgow - will be Jim Leighton, whose one-off engagement here to work with the Under-21 keepers rebounded badly on Brown. "Leightongate" caused a blip in Scotland's preparations when it transpired that an extract from his autobiography in one of today's newspapers would include criticism of the senior goalkeeping coach, Alan Hodgkinson.

However, with the former Manchester United and Aberdeen custodian banished from the official party and present only as a radio summariser, the team were free of distractions as they strove to expose the mountain-top that is San Marino as the footballing molehill results prove it to be.

The Scots immediately encountered San Marino's principal tactic, that of pulling virtually every man back behind the ball at every opportunity. Gary Naysmith and Jackie McNamara saw a lot of the ball in wide positions as Brown looked to get behind the pale blue wall, the Celtic wing-back's pass enabling Elliott to beat the offside trap after just eight minutes. Gasperoni narrowed the angle to block with his legs, the first of many brave and sometimes desperate saves during a first half of relentless Scottish pressure.

Neil Sullivan, by contrast, did not touch the ball before he fielded a 12th-minute back pass. The Scotland goalkeeper might as well have been standing among his team's fans as his opposite number again advanced from his line six minutes later to smother Billy Dodds' shot after Hutchison had headed down Colin Hendry's long ball.

Kevin Gallacher, captaining Scotland on his 50th cap, almost forced an own goal from Riccardo Muccioli midway through the first half. Christian Dailly headed Hutchison's corner against the far post on the half-hour, but broke his nose in a clash of heads with Ermanno Zonzini and gave way to David Weir.

Scottish frustration intensified when Gasperoni pushed a Neil McCann cross against the other upright eight minutes from the break. The Scots claimed the ball had crossed the line; in the absence of a Russian linesman, the Icelandic referee curiously awarded San Marino a free-kick instead.

The procession towards the San Marinese goal resumed immediately after the restart. Gasperoni was cautioned for time-wasting before 10 minutes had elapsed and was grateful when Dodds promptly scuffed his shot wide from the first real opening.

Elliott bundled the ball home after what resembled a rugby scrummage in the six-yard area but was penalised for a push. Gallacher then chipped into the empty net after the goalkeeper had parried at the feet of Dodds, only to find that the linesman this time flagged for the Rangers striker being in an offside position.

The breakthrough finally arrived with 19 minutes remaining. Elliott, lending his physique to a flagging front line, headed in a cross by Allan Johnston. Their resistance broken, San Marino gave up another goal two minutes later, Hutchison dinking the ball over Gasperoni after a one-two with Colin Cameron had played him through.

After their earlier gloating, the relief of Scotland's supporters, who comprised practically the entire crowd, was embarrassing to behold.

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