Paradise beckons for Scotland

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The Independent Online
Scotland 2 Estonia 0

Scotland's World Cup odyssey becomes more of an oddity with each disparate setting. An adventure that began in Vienna and will end, according to one Tartan Army anthem, in "Gay Paree", now takes them from Rugby Park to Paradise. How bitterly ironic or beautifully apposite Celtic Park's colloquial title might sound by 10pm on Wednesday.

Craig Brown's view, after a tactically astute success against Estonia stretched their lead in Group Four, was that beating Austria there would not "kill them off". While the Scotland manager was well advised, from a psychological perspective, to predict a three-way fight to the finish also involving Sweden, the fans can be forgiven for brushing up on their Franglais.

"It's going to be a very different match because Austria won't sit in the way Estonia did," Brown said. "There'll be more flow from end to end, and when they do attack they'll have forwards capable of scoring. They're experienced, hardened internationals, with several players from the German Bundesliga, not enthusiastic ones striving to make names for themselves like Estonia."

Yet behind closed doors he must guard against extolling the Austrians too much. They looked a strangely soulless side in August's 0-0 draw, and Scotland have beaten them away in a friendly during Brown's reign.

Those who interpreted Estonia's visit as merely a useful warm-up for the bigger match underestimated both the respect Brown has for a fast- developing team and the pressure created by last month's stalemate in neutral Monaco. It was inevitable, however, that their performance in the first game would have a bearing on preparations for the second, and in that respect the Ayrshire detour to Kilmarnock proved a breath of fresh air.

For a start, there were no fresh injuries. Colin Hendry, whose patriotism is such that he is resisting a much-needed hernia operation until after the potentially decisive fixture in Sweden on 30 April, was withdrawn once the points were assured so that he would be sure of facing Toni Polster.

A further cause for optimism was the clean sheet; Scotland's 14th, incredibly, in 15 competitive matches. Jim Leighton, who now boasts 39 shut-outs from 76 appearances, made two vital saves and richly deserves to join Alex McLeish as his country's second most capped player this week.

The Scots also learned from Monte Carlo to be more patient and precise, a point taken up by Leighton's opposite number. Mart Poom, an agile giant whose next action may well be at Old Trafford for Derby next weekend, detected an improvement in the crosses into his goalmouth. "They were harder and lower," he said, "because Duncan Ferguson didn't play."

The delivery was indeed more controlled, especially from Tosh McKinlay. Credit must also go to Paul McStay and particularly Gary McAllister for their service to the wing-backs. It was as if Runrig's musical exhortation to "take the low road", repeatedly aired over the loudspeakers, had sunk in.

Despite being destined to give way to the suspension-free John Collins against Austria, Scot Gemmill was central to the Scottish strategy. His eager support of a mobile front two meant the playmakers never had to chase the game.

When they did venture forward, Tom Boyd provided cover; his role, in Brown's novel description, was as "a contraceptive". But it was Boyd who burst forward, as it were, to puncture Estonia's self-belief just as it was swelling. A bravely headed goal, his first for Scotland, followed Tosh McKinlay's clever run and centre.

For sheer opportunism, Boyd rivalled the pilot who flew over the stadium trailing an SNP banner. The left-sided defender then struck the bar - as did Estonia's pocket dynamo, Martin Reim, before materialising on the right wing. His cross was turned in, appropriately enough at the home of the prize-winning Killie Pie ("Best Scotch beef from Wales"), by Janek Meet.

And so to Glasgow. If mood and momentum count for anything, it should not be Paradise lost, although Scotland's fortunes never did have much truck with rhyme or reason.

Goals: Boyd (26) 1-0; Meet og (52) 2-0.

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Leighton (Hibernian); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), McStay (Celtic), McAllister (Coventry), Gemmill (Nottingham Forest), T McKinlay (Celtic); Jackson (Hibernian), Gallacher (Blackburn). Substitutes: B McKinlay (Blackburn) for Hendry, 64; McGinlay (Bolton) for Jackson, 83.

ESTONIA (4-1-4-1): Poom (Derby); Kirs, Hohlov-Simson (both Flora Tallinn), Lemsalu (FSV Mainz05), Meet (Lelle SK); Reim (Flora); Viikmae, Zelinski (both Flora), Pari (Lelle SK), Kristal (Flora); Oper (Flora). Substitutes: Leetma (Lelle SK) for Viikmae, 72; Arbeiter (Lelle SK) for Zelinski, 81; Rooba (Flora) for Pari, 55.

Bookings: Estonia: Hohlov-Simson, Zelinski.

Man of the Match: T McKinlay.

Referee: B Heynemann (Germany).

Attendance: 17,996.