Two of their traditionally weaker suits, top-class goalkeeping and disciplined defence, earned Scotland an important point from the favourites to qualify from Group Eight of the European Championship, Russia, here last night.
Jim Leighton, with a vital save in either half, made a crucial contribution to the Scots' best result on foreign soil since beating the Soviet Union's short-lived successors, the CIS, at the 1992 finals. The clenched-fist salute at the finish by their captain, Gary McAllister, was a sign that a place in England next year is within Scotland's grasp once more.
In the cat-and-mouse machinations which invariably precede these occasions, the Chelsea keeper Dmitri Kharin was reportedly out of favour with Russia's coach, Oleg Romantsev, while Sergei Kiriakov's weekend injury would supposedly keep him out. Both figured in the starting line-up. Equally predictably, Victor Onopko shadowed McAllister remorselessly.
In November's 1-1 draw inGlasgow, Russia had looked awesome on the break. Required to force the pace, they were altogether less impressive After a second-minute scare, when Kiriakov wriggled through and fired into the side-netting, Scotland settled to give almost as good as they received. Craig Brown had expressed the hope that his full-backs would double as wide midfielders, but even the manager may have been surprised by their initial impact.
Tom Boyd, indeed, could have opened his scoring account twice in the opening 20 minutes after 25 goalless internationals. Trying his luck with a lob after John Collins' cross was cleared to him, he saw the ball miss Kharin's crossbar by inches. When Boyd then appeared in the centre-forward position, taking John McGinlay's back-heeled pass like a born striker, it took a desperate intervention by Yuri Nikiforov to stop him.
Stewart McKimmie also came forward, crossing to give Darren Jackson a chance to mark his debut with a goal. The striker's header lacked power, although Kharin needed two attempts to gather. Russia's other "Anglo", Andrei Kanchelskis, twice got behind the Scots without creating a chance, which meant Leighton's first opportunity to highlight his renaissance was delayed until the 28th minute. Diving to his right, the veteran not only kept out Nikiforov's fulminating free-kick, but caught it.
Both sides had penalty appeals rejected before half-time. The referee was probably right to refuse Jackson when Onopko unloaded him, but may have been unsighted as Boyd apppeared to take Valeri Karpin's legs.
Leighton, winning his 63rd cap at the age of 36, was not the only Scot revelling in a new lease of life. The composure of Colin Calderwood, six years his junior yet taking the international stage for the first time, proved an effective foil for Colin Hendry's more abrasive approach. With the third centre-back, Alan McLaren, displaying his customary diligence, the sparse crowd were starting to jeer Russian when Scotland endured an extraordinary escape on the hour.
As the introduction of an attacking substitute, Nikolai Pisarev, suddenly gave Russia renewed impetus, Karpin's free-kick for once flummoxed the Scots. The ball fell obligingly in a packed penalty area to Yuri Kovtun, whose drive looked set to pass through Leighton's legs. However, it took just enough of a deflection to send it tantalisingly wide - a save as scrappy as his first had been sublime, but perhaps the one which takes Scotland over the border in the summer of '96.
RUSSIA: (1-2-5-2): Kharin (Chelsea); Nikiforov (Moscow Spartak); Khlestov (Moscow Spartak), Kovtun (Dynamo Moscow); Kanchelskis (Manchester United), Karpin (Real Sociedad), Onopko (Moscow Spartak), Dbrovolski (Atletico Madrid), Shalimov (Duisburg); Radchenko (Racing Santander), Kiriakov (Karlsruhe). Substitutes: Pisarev (Moscow Spartak) for Radchenko 57, Radimov (CSKA Moscow) for Shalimov 69.
SCOTLAND (5-3-2): Leighton (Hibernian); McKimmie (Aberdeen), Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), McLaren (Rangers), Boyd (Celtic); McStay (Celtic), McAllister (Leeds), Collins (Celtic); McGinlay (Bolton), Jackson (Hibernian). Substitutes: Shearer (Aberdeen) for Jackson 77, McKinlay (Dundee United) for McGinlay 83.
Referee: H Strampe (Germany).Reuse content