ALBANIA 0 SCOTLAND 4
JAMES FORREST scored his first goals for Scotland at the 25th attempt as his second-half double salvo devastated 10-man Albania in Shkoder this evening.
The Celtic winger was unstoppable and he came so close to becoming the first Hoops player to claim a hat-trick for his country since the legendary Jimmy Quinn achieved the feat against Northern Ireland 110 years ago!
The decimated Scots – with nine withdrawals from Alex McLeish’s original squad – were under pressure going in this UEFA Nations League encounter.
However, the nerves were settled early on when Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser snapped in the opener and Sheffield Wednesday striker Steven Fletcher, making his first appearance in two years, tucked away a penalty-kick on the stroke of half-time.
Forrest took over after the interval to rattle in two excellent efforts with his so-called weaker left foot and could have had another but for a touch from David Bates in an offside position when it looked as though the Celt’s 62nd-minute drive was going into the net under its own steam. Russian referee Vladislav Bezborodov was quick to rule it out for offside.
Ryan Christie, who was superb for the entire 90 minutes, helped set up the 14th-minute opener for the speedy Fraser who was allowed to cut inside the defender from the left onto his favoured right foot and he sizzled a low drive in at the far post.
Callum McGregor completed the Hoops trio on show and he, too, looked comfortable all night and sent in a few wicked corner-kicks that had the home keeper toiling to clear. He was neat, tidy and composed as he carried his club form into the international arena.
The hosts went down to 10 men in the 22nd minute when captain Mergim Mavraj sent Forrest spinning. He was about to get a yellow card for that incident, but it became a straight red after he headbutted the unfortunate Christie.
A FIRST FOR FORREST…the Celtic winger notches his debut goal for Scotland in his 25th appearance.
Last Sunday it was Livingston’s Dolly Menga who pushed his head aggressively into the face of the Highlander and Mayraj did likewise this evening. Menga dodged an instant red card before accepting a two-game suspension following the SFA review panel had looked at film of the incident.
Christie might appear in future games adorned in a crash helmet to fend off the nutters.
Scotland were awarded a penalty-kick just before the interval when the match official ruled a Fletcher free-kick had been handled and the former Hibs frontman stepped up to take the award and send the keeper the wrong way as he expertly placed in at the left-hand corner of the net.
Ten minutes after the turnaround, Christie picked out Forrest racing through the middle and the pacy Hoops attacker struck a shot from 16 yards that swept into the net via the goalie.
Twelve minutes afterwards, Forrest struck again indeadly fashion as he flicked up a left-wing cross from Fraser and hit it full on the volley as he almost tore a hole in the net.
Now all eyes are on Hampden on Tuesday when the Scots take on Israel knowing victory will move them up to League B – but a draw would see the visitors progress instead by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
However, with Forrest in this form it is difficult to envisage anything but a victory for Scotland and celebrations for the Tartan Army at the national stadium on this occasion.