McCoist reaches landmark in style

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The Independent Online

reports from Hampden Park Scotland 1 Australia 0

Ally McCoist, ever the local hero, marked his 50th cap with his 18th international goal to settle this glorified practice match in Scotland's favour here last night.

The Rangers striker, who also sported the captain's armband until departing the fray with 10 minutes remaining, makes a habit of enlivening such occasions. This one certainly needed it, although both John Spencer and John Collins forced Mark Bosnich into an overdue burst of athleticism as Australia's defensive discipline began to creak in the closing stages.

The game had been billed as a warm-up for Euro 96, but public interest was as cool as the evening itself. Only 20,608 were scattered around the national stadium, and the Hampden Roar was replaced by something more akin to the touchlines at a St Trinian's hockey match.

Those who questioned the usefulness of such a fixture in Scotland's build- up may have been placated by the Australians' line-up. Of the 16 players on duty, only three were not based in Europe. By playing a sweeper system and only two markers, the Socceroos' Scottish coach, Eddie Thomson, partially fulfilled Craig Brown's prediction that they would provide a dress rehearsal for his team's match against the Netherlands at Villa Park. But the Dutch, surely, will attack more.

It quickly became evident that the fixture would also serve as an exercise in breaking down a massed defence. Thomson's side, despite having been gathered together from six countries 48 hours beforehand, soon slipped into a pattern of play which hinted at a high level of organisation and often involved pulling everyone except Carl Veart back behind the ball.

These tactics were not exactly calculated to send the decibel levels soaring. Eleven sterile minutes elapsed before either Jim Leighton or Bosnich - former colleagues at Manchester United - laid a hand on the ball in open play. Even then, it was only for the Scotland goalkeeper to collect a through ball which Graham Arnold was pursuing hopefully.

Arnold scored four times in a Dutch league match last weekend, but on this occasion was more often to be found tracking back. The younger of the Vidmar brothers, Aurelio, was seldom far from Gary McAllister's shoulder. All of which helped to ensure a lack of goalmouth incident until the later part of the first half.

Perhaps predictably, a set-piece produced Scotland's first opening. From a free-kick 25 yards out on the right, Collins drove a left-footed shot which was bound for the far top corner of the net until Bosnich, resplendent in a violent pink top, leapt to claw the ball behind.

Within a minute, Scotland's other wing-back Craig Burley, sent Spencer scurrying down the right. The pocket-sized striker's delivery was accurate enough but carried too much pace for McCoist, the ball eluding his outstretched foot.

Brown rang the changes at half-time, sending on Scott Booth and Kevin Gallacher. Spencer took up a deeper role, while Gallacher's appearance saw Burley revert to right-back in what was basically a 4-4-2 formation.

While Scotland's players were adjusting to the revised tactics, Australia all but broke the deadlock. Steve Corica, Wolves' recent recruit from Leicester, was instrumental in creating a gilt-edged opening two minutes into the second half. Corica crossed to the near post for Veart, who missed the ball. When it broke to Aurelio Vidmar eight yards out, Leighton made a fine diving save and Colin Hendry completed the clearance.

Corica then found Vidmar the elder, Tony, in space on the right flank, his pass flashing dangerously across the six-yard area. But in the 54th minute, just as Australia were starting to look ominously purposeful, Scotland scored the goal that might have been scripted by those responsible for that other meeting of Scottish and Australian minds, Braveheart.

Gallacher, providing a much-needed injection of pace for Scotland, beat Tony Vidmar before delivering a centre which found McCoist perfectly placed to beat Bosnich with a textbook downward header which entered the net by the keeper's left-hand post.

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Leighton (Hibernian); Hendry (Blackburn), O'Neil, Boyd (both Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), McStay (Celtic), McAllister (Leeds United), McKinlay (Blackburn), Collins (Celtic); McCoist (Rangers), Spencer (Celtic). Substitutes: Booth (Aberdeen) for McStay h-t; Gallacher (Blackburn) for O'Neil h-t; D Jackson (Hibernian) for McKinlay 75; Nevin (Tranmere) for McCoist, 80.

AUSTRALIA (1-2-4-2-1): Bosnich (Aston Villa); Horvat (Hajduk Split); Tobin (Adelaide City), Popovic (Sydney United); T Vidmar (NAC Breda), Slater (West Ham), A Vidmar (Sion), Van Blerk (Millwall); Arnold (NAC Breda), Corica (Wolverhampton); Veart (Crystal Palace). Substitute: Tiatto (Melbourne Knights) for Veart 69.

Referee: H Van Dijk (Netherlands).