STUART ARMSTRONG capped an outstanding international debut by setting up Scotland’s winner against Slovenia in the make-or-break World Cup qualifier against Slovenia at Hampden tonight.
The in-form Celtic midfielder was Man of the Match on his first appearance for his country at this level and he thrived in the atmosphere and occasion as he guided Gordon Strachan’s men to a 1-0 victory.
The Scots are now on seven points in fourth place behind leaders England who have 13 points, Slovakia on nine and Slovenia on eight.
However, the group could be turned on its head if Scotland beat Gareth Southgate’s outfit, 2-0 winners over Lithuania earlier in the evening, when they visit Hampden on June 10.
There were just over 20,000 for tonight’s encounter, but the national stadium will be sold out for the visit of the English.
Armstrong carried on his excellent club form into his World Cup baptism and was wonderfully composed two minutes from time when he slipped in substitute Chris Martin.
The Hoops star held onto the ball until the precise moment of release and touched a sublime pass into the tracks of the burly frontman who had only been on the pitch five minutes as a replacement for James Morrison.
Martin swung a left foot at the pass and managed to glide an effort low past the helpless Oblak into the far corner off the base of the post.
It was what Scotland deserved after a night of near-things and downright bad luck.
Leigh Griffiths was one of the six Celtic players who started the game – and he must be wondering what he has to do to score his first goal for Scotland.
As well as the hitman and Armstrong, Craig Gordon was in goal, Kieran Tierney appeared at right-back with former Hoops kid Andy Robertson on the left.
Scott Brown was captain in place of the dropped Darren Fletcher and James Forrest got the wide right berth.
Griffiths, though, was right out of luck in his 12th appearance for his country.
He struck the woodwork twice in the space of two first-half minutes and was then kneed in the spine by keeper Oblak as a high ball dropped into the box.
He attempted to soldier on, but had to go off early in the second-half with Steven Naismith coming on.
Griffiths must have thought he had claimed the opener in the 34th minute when he got on the end of a superb lerft-wing cross from Robert Snodgrass.
Unfortunately, from only four yards, he got his elevation all wrong and clattered an effort off the face of the crossbar.
Moments later, Armstrong set him up with a neat pass inside, but once again the frontman struck woodwork with his low right-foot drive eluding Oblak at his left-hand post and then thumping against the inside of the upright.
Scotland did have the ball in the net from a header by Russell Martin after a right-wing corner-kick from Snodgrass, but the referee spotted an infringement before the ball struck the net.
Slovenia had five players booked and lucky another couple didn’t see red as they came to be spoilsports.
They got what they deserved in the end.
More importantly, Scotland – with their Celtic winning mentality – got what they were due.
Bring on the English!
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