SCOTLAND 3 ISRAEL 2
JAMES FORREST became the first Celtic player to hit a hat-trick for Scotland since the legendary Jimmy Quinn against Northern Ireland 110 years ago when he rattled in a glorious trio against the Israelis at Hampden tonight.
The Hoops winger was singing in the rain as he fired the Scots into Europa Group B and a play-off place for the European Championships.
There was just no stopping Forrest as he claimed his fifth goal in 99 international minutes after his double against Albania at the weekend.
Impressive shooting, but not as sensational as his four in 30 minutes against St Johnstone in Perth last month.
Brendan Rodgers was in the stand to watch his lively raider run amok at the national stadium as Alex McLeish’s men gifted the visitors an early goal – scored by ex-Celt Beram Kayal – and then the lively attacker took centre stage as he thumped in a glorious treble to turn the tie on its head.
NUMBER ONE…James Forrest fires a superb right-foot shot into the net for the equaliser.
There was a scare near the end when the Israelis pulled one back, but the Scots held out for a well-merited victory.
Nerve-ends were shredded when the game when into four minutes of stoppage time, but when the smoke cleared it was the Scots who were taking a bow in front of the celebrating Tartan Army.
As ever, Scotland chose to make it difficult for themselves. Only nine minutes had gone when the defence stepped off Kayal while he took a couple of touches as he sized up the situation about 25 yards out.
Virtually given the freedom of Mount Florida, the cultured midfielder accepted the invitation to shoot and sent a sizzling right-foot effort hurtling over the left hand of Allan McGregor to silence the home crowd.
NUMBER TWO…it’s Forrest on target again as he puts the Scots head before the interval.
In the 22nd minute, Callum McGregor was denied an equaliser by keeper Harush who dived spectacularly to his right to push away his first-time 25-yarder after Ryan Fraser’s left-wing cross had been blocked and fell invitingly into his path.
He didn’t hesitate as he sent in a vicious dipping drive, but the Israeli No. 1 proved equal to the effort and made a sprawling save at his post.
However, in the 35th minute, he had no answer to Forrest’s first goal and the all-important equaliser to throw his nation a much-needed lifeline.
Andy Robertson sent Stuart Armstrong through with a neat pass and the ex-Celts’s left-foot attempt was blocked, but the ball was worked across to the lurking Forrest about 14 yards out.
He had the composure to stun the swirling ball before zipping an unstoppable drive low past the keeper at his right-hand post.
Scotland responded and were sparking all over the pitch with a refreshing enthusiasm and once again Ryan Christie played his part as he kept things ticking over in the midfield. His energy, allied to that of Armstrong and McGregor, was key to wearing down the opponents,
Two minutes from the interval, Forrest was on target again with a sweet goal that ripped the Israeli rearguard apart.
Robertson hit a ball out of defence that was met brilliantly by comeback striker Steven Fletcher who nodded expertly into the tracks of the rampaging Christie.
He took a touch to eliminate an opponent and then superbly picked out Forrest in the box. Once again, the winger was calmness personified as he collected the pass before rifling an unsaveable shot low past the keeper at his right.
NUMBER THREE…Forrest completes his remarkable hat-trick as he strokes the ball past the keeper. Pics: Geo.
Nine minutes after the turnaround, Forrest completed his outstanding treble. Fraser played his part with a clever ball in from the left. The Hoops dangerman pounced on the pass, again opened up space for a shot and made no mistake with a finishing effort of unerring accuracy.
That should have been that, but Scotland were caught on the back foot in the 75th minute when much-lauded striker Zahavi, who had done little against Scott McKenna or David Bates, walloped in a ferocious effort from 25 yards that whizzed past the motionless McGregor.
That signalled a nervy finale to the encounter and, as the minutes ticked down, the Scotland keeper was asked to make a defiant save as he managed to get to a flick from Dabbur and claw the ball to safety.
The action came to a halt with the shrill of German referee Tobias Welz’s whistle and James Forrest, quite rightly, was presented with the matchball as he bridged a remarkable 110-year gap.
It really was a five-star performance from the Celtic ace who is promising to have his greatest-ever season for club and country.