By Ronnie Esplin, PA
A late double from substitute Scott McTominay helped Scotland secure a 3-0 European Championship qualifying win over 10-man Cyprus at Hampden Park.
Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn scored his 16th international goal in the 21st minute and it was then mostly a dull affair until Manchester United’s McTominay grabbed a second from the bench in the 87th minute before adding another from close range in stoppage time.
The visitors ended the match with 10 men after Nicholas Ioannou was sent off for picking up a second yellow card after booting the ball away.
Two goals off the bench for Scott McTominay 😮💨#SCOCYP pic.twitter.com/wcw5kHquvM
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 25, 2023
It is the first time since 2006 that Scotland have won their opening European Championship qualifying game.
The Scots next face the might of Spain in Glasgow on Tuesday night, providing an acid test for Steve Clarke’s side, but they will go into the match with three morale-boosting points.
Pre-match interest had centred on the goalkeeping position.
With number one Craig Gordon recovering from a double leg break, all the talk was about which of the three uncapped keepers Clarke would choose for this Group A opener.
Norwich’s Angus Gunn, called up for the first time after playing for England youth teams up until the under-21s, was given the nod over Motherwell’s Liam Kelly and Gordon’s Hearts deputy Zander Clark.
Watford defender Ryan Porteous celebrated his 23rd birthday by winning his second cap to line up alongside Grant Hanley and Kieran Tierney in a three-man defence, while midfielder Callum McGregor won his 50th cap as Che Adams led the line.
St Mirren’s Alex Gogic was a familiar face in a Cyprus side ranked 110th in the world and he helped stifle the Scots in the early stages, draining the stands of any excitement.
It was not until the 13th minute that visiting goalkeeper Demitris Dimitriou was tested and he made a decent save at his near post from Aaron Hickey’s drive from 14 yards out.
The first real involvement of Gunn, the son of former Scotland keeper Bryan Gunn, came in the 17th minute when he made a comfortable stop from a long-range attempt by Grigoris Kastanos.
It was all a bit flat but a neat Scotland move led to the opener.
Midfielder Stuart Armstrong slipped the ball down the left flank and captain Andy Robertson’s cross deflected off Gogic and landed with McGinn, who volleyed in from close range at the back post; a long VAR check drew boos from the Tartan Army before confirming the goal.
Just before the break Dimitriou tipped a drive from Adams over the bar – the corner came to nothing – and the Southampton attacker limped off in the 56th minute to be replaced by Lyndon Dykes, recently recovered from a debilitating bout of pneumonia.
The game continued to plod along and the home fans began to get frustrated at the lack of goalmouth action.
Armstrong set up Robertson again on the left-hand side of the box but the Liverpool left-back’s cross sped past the far post before Armstrong tested Dimitriou with a drive from distance. He then made way for McTominay, with Ryan Christie coming on for Ryan Jack.
Christie and McTominay both immediately had shots blocked by a wall of Cyprus defenders.
However, there was no surge in excitement.
Right-back Nathan Patterson replaced Hickey after 78 minutes before Robertson fizzed the ball across goal to find no takers.
There was an inevitable increase in tension in the closing stages as Cyprus tried to move forward and the Scots supporters gulped when Gunn had to make a decent save from Andronikos Kakoullis’s deflected drive.
However, Scottish nerves were soothed when McTominay fired in from three yards after Dykes had headed down a cross from Christie, with the Old Trafford midfielder guiding in a second from 12 yards in the third of five added minutes.
Ioannou left the pitch soon afterwards after a show of petulance.