Substitute Burke is Scotland’s late hero with last gasp winner over Cyprus
The pressure was already on the home side after losing 3-0 to Kazakhstan in their opening 2020 European Championship qualifier.
Substitute Oliver Burke was the late hero as Steve Clarke’s Scotland tenure began with a nervy 2-1 win over Cyprus at Hampden Park.
The pressure was already on the home side after losing 3-0 to Kazakhstan in their opening 2020 European Championship qualifier in Astana opener before beating San Marino 2-0 away in the second of their first double-header, which proved insufficient for Alex McLeish to keep his job.
The goalless first-half under the new head coach was not the blood and thunder often required by the Tartan Army who had to exercise patience.
Skipper Andy Robertson, who celebrated Liverpool’s Champions League final win over Tottenham in Madrid last Saturday, thundered in a drive in the 61st minute for his first goal of the season only for defender Ioannis Kousoulous to head level in the 87th minute to stun the Tartan Army.
However, Burke, on for debutant Eamonn Brophy in the 73rd minute, headed a Ryan Fraser cross on to the post and followed up the rebound for his first Scotland goal to claim three valuable points
The Scots now have to prepare to face Group I favourites Belgium in Brussels on Tuesday night.
Former Kilmarnock boss Clarke will have to come up with something special if Scotland are to upset the Red Devils but he will be glad to be going over on the back of a win.
The former Scotland defender not only gave a debut to Killie striker Brophy but David Marshall took over from Scott Bain in goal for his first international appearance in almost three years.
The midfield trio of Kenny McLean, John McGinn and Callum McGregor had all ended the season on a high with their respective clubs and there was a lot of faith put in wide men Fraser and James Forrest.
It was the Celtic winger who had the first effort on goal in the fifth minute when he flashed a right-footed drive over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
Fraser looked in the mood with some surging runs down the left-hand side, but a swift break by the visitors in the 19th minute ended with attacker Andreas Makris testing Marshall with a decent drive from 18 yards.
At the other end, Scotland defender Charlie Mulgrew forced Cyprus keeper Urko Pardo into a fine save at his left-hand post from a free-kick before Brophy headed the resultant corner past the post.
Just before half-time, after another swift Cyprus break, striker Pieros Sotiriou forced Marshall into a great save with a low angled drive.
Hampden sat in silent frustration, hoping for improvement after the break. There was no immediate upturn and indeed Marshall had save from Matija Spoljaric’s low drive as the Cypriots grew in confidence.
However, just after the hour mark, with the crowd becoming increasingly restless, Robertson took it upon himself to fire in a shot from 25 yards which flew high past Pardo. The goal energised the Scotland players and fans.
"Steve Clarke's Tartan Army"— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) June 8, 2019
Pardo spilled a McGregor shot soon afterwards but in the 77th minute Marshall was called into action again when he tipped a deflected shot from Makris over the bar.
Nothing came from the corner and Scotland broke, with right-back Stephen O’Donnell taking a Fraser pass and lifting the ball past Pardo and past the far post. The Cypriot keeper made a diving save from Fraser’s drive in the 85th minute before Kousoulos stunned Hampden when he equalised with a free header from a corner.
But there was still time for Burke to dramatically grab the winner, although a much tougher test, of course, will come in Brussels.