Scotland’s World Cup hopes hung by a thread, but now they might just weave their way to Russia after all.
Chris Martin had a shot off the bar, so did Leigh Griffiths and Martyn Dubravka was in inspired form for Slovakia. It looked like one of those nights, it felt like it too.
But Martin helped release the pressure on Hampden with an 88th minute scrambled winner that sends Scotland to Slovenia needing just a win to further our World Cup journey to the play-off stage.
There’s a long way to go, and this was a long 90 minutes for the nerve shredded Tartan Army who have been taught to keep the faith until the very end by Gordon Strachan’s Scotland team.
Hampden throbbed with intensity on a night where Scotland simply had to win to have a conceivable hope of reaching Russia and they might well have had an early penalty when Kieran Tierney was toppled in the box after seven minutes.
Referee Milorad Mazcic, a controversial figure on the night and previously for Slovakia, waved away the protests.
And Scotland might have gone ahead again but for a wonder save from Slovakian stopper Martyn Dubravka who clawed a Leigh Groffiths effort off the line with his hand.
Scotland were given a helping hand themselves though shortly before half-time when Slovakia’s centre-piece Robert Mak, at the heart of everything the second-placed group F side were doing going forward, was sent off for diving.
He had already been booked for a clumsy kick at James Forrest on the touchline and just a matter of minutes later he walked for a dive as Craig Gordon ran from his line to cut-out a through ball. The Celtic goalkeeper didn’t make it, and knew it and retracted his arms but Mak continued to tumble and was punished for the simulation.
Against the ten men Scotland struggled even more, the good news was, the sending off blunted Slovakia’s attacks almost completely – until the hour mark, that is.
Craig Gordon produced a brilliant save to deny Jan Gregus after Marek Hamsik had fed him through, and Dubravka thenequalled Gordon’s stop to deny Leigh Griffiths.
Scotland began to make the extra man count and with sub Chris Martin on for Jame sForrest they came ever so close to a goal on 69 minutes when Martin rattled the bar from the edge of the area.
And it was more of the same. James Morrison missed close in, Martin Skrtel blocked a Griffiths drive and Scotland were encamped in the opposition half of the field. Griffiths also rattled the crossbar with a free-kick from the same territory that he put England to the sword but Slovakia were stern for Scotland.
Andy Robertson went close with around ten minutes to play, Dubravka beating away his effort and almost certainly sent Slovakia a step closer to the World Cup.
But after an inspired evening, he was finally beaten by the least spectacular effort he faced all night when Chris Martin forced Martin Skrtel to tutn Leigh Griffiths’ low cross in at the front post to give Scotland their third win on the spin, and send the national side to Slovenia with it all to play for, and a nation back home, full of hope.