Close shave as Fletcher fires Scots

Scotland 2 Iceland 1
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The Independent Football

Hibernian's Steven Fletcher scored the Scots' second, after Iceland had levelled, to earn a justified victory, even though the closing minutes involved sustained backs-to-the-wall defending by the hosts, peeping through the fingers by their fans, and a match-saving double save by Craig Gordon. No matter. Scotland are second place in their section, with revived hopes of a play-off berth.

Considering the doom, gloom and controversy of the build-up, the Scotland manager, George Burley, can feel he orchestrated a right result in more senses than one. The Scottish FA started yesterday with confirmation that two players – captain Barry Ferguson and goalkeeper Allan McGregor – had been reprimanded for reportedly staying up drinking all night after Saturday's 3-0 defeat in Amsterdam.

The squad had arrived back at their five-star base on the banks of Loch Lomond in the early hours of Sunday and Burley had given his blessing for them to have a nightcap. But Ferguson and McGregor allegedly stayed in a public bar at Cameron House until breakfast time. Reports also suggested that the goalkeeper had his head shaved by his team-mate. They paid with their places in last night's team, and the Tartan Army made their feelings known when Ferguson's name was booed pre-match as the squads were announced. Burley said afterwards that the matter was history. "We move on, it's gone," he said.

Of the game, he said: "We battled away and I thought we deserved the three points. There were some exceptional individual performances, especially from some of our younger players, and it keeps our hopes alive, which is the main thing."

It was the young guns primarily who turned the jeers to cheers by half-time. McCormack, with 18 goals for his club this season, made a second consecutive start, this time on the left of midfield. West Bromwich Albion's James Morrison, also 22, played on the other flank and Fletcher, 22 too, partnered Kenny Miller up front. Alan Hutton, 24, was back from injury at right-back, and Stephen McManus back at centre-half, while Gordon replaced McGregor in goal.

McCormack and Morrison won corners within the first four minutes and Hutton had a penalty claim denied within seven. The Scots were looking as good as in any match since Burley took over 14 months ago. McCormack's 35-yard shot over the bar in the 19th indicated he would shoot with any sight of goal. Hutton was increasingly influential and one of his crosses led to McCormack's opener, slammed into the roof of the net.

McCormack can be a danger from set pieces and a 53rd minute free-kick had pace, and runners chasing it, but Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson in goal held it. Within seconds, play switched and Iceland were level. Pamli Palmason's long-range effort bounced off the left post and into the path of Indridi Sigurdsson, who slotted in.

McCormack saw another set piece stopped by Gunnleifsson when the keeper held again. McCormack's next delivery fared better. From his corner, McManus headed to Fletcher, who headed in.

Scotland (4-1-3-2): Gordon (Sunderland); Hutton (Tottenham), Caldwell, McManus (both Celtic), Naysmith (Sheffield United); Brown (Celtic); Morrison (West Bromwich), D Fletcher (Manchester United), McCormack (Cardiff); Miller (Rangers), S Fletcher (Hibernian). Substitutes used: Teale (Derby) for S Fletcher 78; Rae (Cardiff) for Morrison 90.

Iceland (4-4-1-1): Gunnleifsson; Steinsson, K Sigurdsson, Hreidarsson, Eiriksson; Palmason, A Gunnarsson, Danielsson, Sigurdsson; Gudjohnsen; Smarason. Substitutes used: Jonsson for A Gunnarsson, 70; Bjornsson for Sigurdsson, 81.

Referee: T Einwaller (Austria).

Group Nine

Scotland results: Macedonia 1 Scotland 0, Iceland 1 Scotland 2, Scotland 0 Norway 0, Netherlands 3 Scotland 0, Scotland 2 Iceland 1

Remaining fixtures: 12 Aug Norway v Scotland, 5 Sep Scotland v Macedonia, 9 Sep Scotland v Netherlands.