Harper has the last laugh

Scotland Under 21 5 Finland Under 21 0
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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

reports from Cumbernauld

Scotland Under 21 5 Finland Under 21 0

A week after enduring an ignominious evening at the Broadwood Stadium, Kevin Harper returned yesterday to score a stunning hat-trick which takes the Scotland Under-21 side to within touching distance of a place in the European Championship quarter-finals.

The Oldham-born Harper, Glasgow-raised though not unlike Julian Joachim in appearance, had suffered racial abuse and ended up being sent off while playing for Hibernian at Airdrie's adopted home. So his flourish against Finland - one with the right foot, the next with a header and the last with his left - was sweet personal redemption.

His first goal came after 21 minutes during which Antti Sumiala chipped against the crossbar as the taller, stronger Finns flattered to deceive. With the teams playing head tennis and the crowd groaning for someone to bring the ball down, Harper intervened to volley it high and wide of Teuvo Moilanen from just inside the penalty area.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Neil Murray began the build-up to Harper's second with a fine long pass to the left flank. Neil McCann delivered a good early cross, and the diminutive striker's sharp downward header reared up to hit the underside of the bar before crossing the line.

In the 69th minute, following Jamie Fullarton's through-pass, Harper beat the offside trap and cleverly lifted the ball over the 6ft 5in Moilanen before blowing kisses towards the very stand which had taunted him seven days earlier.

Jim Hamilton rolled in the fourth, and Gary Locke secured Scotland's biggest-ever victory at Under-21 level with a vicious angled drive moments after Harper departed to a deserved ovation. The two late goals mean Finland must win their final fixture in Russia to have any hope of overhauling Tommy Craig's team who close at home to San Marino.

SCOTLAND (3-4-3): Stillie (Aberdeen); Handyside (Grimsby), Murray (Rangers), Dailly (Dundee United); Locke (Hearts), McNamara (Dunfermline), Fullarton (St Mirren), Glass (Aberdeen); Harper (Hibernian), Liddell ( Barnsley), McCann (Dundee). Substitutes: Crawford (Raith Rovers) for Harper, 87; Hamilton (Dundee) for Liddell 63.

FINLAND (4-3-3): Moilanen (Jaro Kakobstad); Keula (TPS Turku), Nuorela (Haka Valkeakoski), Hyypia (MyPa Anjalankoski), Oinas (Orebro); Kottila (HJK Helsinki), Heinola (HJK), Karjalainen (Haka); Sumiala (NEC Nijmegen), Vaisanen (Haka), Javaja (VPS Vaasa). Substitutes: Huttunen (MyPa) for Javaja, 60; Jalonen (TPS) for Oinas, 78.

Referee: R Philippi (Luxembourg).

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