Scotland fans can still dream of World Cup 2022 after Steve Clarke’s side came from behind twice against Israel to beat Israel 3-2 thanks to a late, late winner from Manchester United’s Scott McTominay.
It took just five minutes for Israel to break the deadlock, Eran Zahavi firing home a free-kick from the edge of the area after he was brought down by Jack Hendry – with the Scotland wall leaving a gap big enough for the Israeli to pick his spot and fire the ball beyond Craig Gordon.
The initial foul was one Hendry really should have known better than to concede and was an early moment of recklessness that left Scotland right up against it to take something from the game.
Despite this being the seventh meeting between the two sides since October 2018, the hosts were (not including penalty shootouts) without a win in their last five attempts against Israel going into the game.
The goal really seemed to rattle Scotland’s confidence at it was no surprise that it was Israel who looked the more comfortable of the two sides in the opening quarter of an hour – although there were some positive signs for the Tartan Army.
Lyndon Dykes’ chance after 15 minutes was Scotland’s first attempt at really making ex-Hibs keeper Ofir Marciano and the keeper reacted well to deny Dykes with his legs at the cost of a corner.
Polish referee Szymon Marciniak done little to endear himself to the packed Hampden crowd, giving a series of odd decisions and stopping play just as Scotland broke for a decked Israel player he had already checked on 15 seconds earlier.
As Scotland slowly started to take a bit more control of the ball the game became bogged down in midfield and begged for someone to step up and really take control of proceedings and John McGinn looked to have done just that when he curled home an effort from distance – but the joy was short-lived.
Another set-piece from a cheaply given away foul saw Lyndon Dykes’ attempted clearance deflect off Peretz before Dabbur bundled it over the line and restored Israel’s lead moments after Scotland had pulled level and sucked the life right out of a wet Hampden crowd.
Although there was a VAR check for handball, it was little more than Scotland’s comical defending at set plays deserved – particularly when such emphasis was put on the work done by set-piece ‘specialist’ Austin MacPhee earlier in the week.
Just before the break, the game exploded back into life when the referee awarded a penalty when Gilmour was brought down right on the edge of the area, handing Scotland the perfect chance to draw level before heading off.
After an anxious VAR wait to see whether it should have been a red card (it wasn’t) Dykes stepped up only to see his effort saved by Marciano when the QPR striker’s dismal spot-kick went straight down the middle.
A goal right before halftime would have been perfect for Scotland but it summed up the opening 45 perfectly when Dykes fired right at Marciano to pass up what was a gilt-edged chance to level the scores up.
Clarke resisted the temptation to make any changes at the break, sending the same XI back out for the second 45 and there seemed to be a renewed vigour in the stands when the Scotland players emerged from the Hampden tunnel.
John McGinn became the first Scotland player to go into the referee’s book after another needless foul, this time on Manor Solomon, as signs of frustration started to creep in for the hosts.
After settling a bit, Gilmour and Patterson began to get some luck down the right as Israel dropped deeper and deeper into their own half and invited Scotland to try play through their bank of five.
Just when Lyndon Dykes thought he’d levelled the score after he turned the ball home, the Polish referee chalked it off after he appeared to be conned by some play-acting by an Israeli defender.
Then VAR intervened and all hell broke loose, Marciniak overturning his original decision and awarding the goal and almost blowing the roof off Hampden.
For the first time since falling behind, Scotland’s tails were up and the hosts were dictating the tempo of the game and finding holes in the Israeli defences – Billy Gilmour, in particular, really stepping up after the break.
The chances started to come and Patterson could have made it 3-2 when he showed excellent persistence to drive through the Israel defence before his shot was cleared by Marciano, Patterson eventually getting on the end of the resulting corner.
Dykes was next up to test Marciano, the Feyenoord keeper making a fantastic close-range save to deny the striker a second goal of the night and complete Scotland’s comeback.
Ryan Christie was introduced, replacing Ché Adams with a little over 20 minutes left as Steve Clarke tried to add some extra energy to his attack in search of the much-craved winner and really sent Scotland on their way towards the playoffs.
Kieran Tierney thought he’d done it when he knocked the ball into the back of the net but the Arsenal defender’s effort was disallowed but it was hard to escape the sense there was a third goal coming in the final 15 minutes.
There was a controversial booking for the ever-impressive Gilmour with less than ten minutes to go, the midfielder sliding in hard as Scotland pushed forward with everything.
With three minutes of six played in injury time, McTominay get on the end of a corner one way or the other and give Scotland the lead for the first time in the game and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Scotland now sit four points ahead of Israel with three games left in the group, leaving them very much in control of their World Cup ambitions.
Scotland: Craig Gordon, Scott McTominay, Jack Hendry, Kieran Tierney, Nathan Patterson, Andy Robertson, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor, John McGinn, Ché Adams, Lyndon Dykes
Subs: Liam Kelly, Jon McLaughlin, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott McKenna, Ryan Christie, Lewis Ferguson, Liam Cooper, Stuart Armstrong, David Turnbull, Kevin Nisbet, Ryan Fraser, Kenny McLean
Israel: Ofir Marciano, Eli Dasa, Ofri Arad, Sun Menachem, Iyad Abu Abaid, Dor Peretz, Bibras Natcho, Manor Solomon, Nir Bitton, Eran Zahavi, Munas Dabbur
Subs: Daniel Peretz, Itamar Nitzan, Dan Glazer, Yonatan Gotlib, Shon Weissman, Eden Shamir, Suf Podgoreanu, Liel Abada, Joel Abu Hanna, Gadi Kinda, Ofir Davidzada
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Assistant referees: Paweł Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz
Fourth official: Tomasz Musiał
NTOF now offers a YouTube channel featuring exclusive interviews, post-match discussion, in-depth debate, and much more – LIKE and SUBSCRIBE and don’t miss any of our videos.