The perfect night for Scotland. Tense, exhausting yet perfect. Victorious in Vienna thanks to Lyndon Dykes’ second winning goal in two games, Steve Clarke’s side seized control of their destiny in Group F with a memorable triumph over Austria. Israel’s resounding defeat at runaway leaders Denmark provided extra gloss.
Scotland defended superbly throughout, attacked with menace, worked tirelessly and profited from a VAR decision to award the penalty that Dykes just about converted. The reward was not simply three points, but momentum at a critical stage in the campaign and second place in the group, with closest rivals Israel due at Hampden Park next month. What an occasion that promises to be.
“Some people in the country may not believe in these players but I do,” said the Scotland manager, clearly peeved by the criticism that followed last week’s loss in Copenhagen. “I love them. I trust them everywhere we go. We are a good team, we are growing together and we are looking forward to having the Tartan Army behind us for the next game. That is a cup final. This was a cup final too.”
As it was for Austria and their manager Franco Foda, who started the night under pressure following an emphatic 5-2 defeat in Israel on Saturday and ended it with David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic trying to placate furious supporters in the stands. Scotland cared not a jot.
Austria made a vibrant start but Scotland responded with resolute, well-drilled defending – with Kieran Tierney to the fore in the opening exchanges – and created the first real chance of the contest. John McGinn, released to the byline by Andy Robertson, floated an inviting cross for Dykes to test the goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann with a towering header.
Sharp, incisive passing from Scotland saw them open up Austria’s left flank frequently but the final ball from the recalled Stephen O’Donnell was often astray. Che Adams, forming an effective and industrious partnership with Dykes, was harshly booked for turning in to the theatrical Florian Grillitsch.
His next encounter with the Bulgarian referee Georgi Kabakov was far more beneficial, however. The Southampton striker appeared to stumble inside the area when his path was blocked by Martin Hinteregger. VAR spotted otherwise. Hinteregger had grabbed Adams’ shoulder and shirt with both hands, and kept hold while dragging him to the ground, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot once he had consulted the pitchside monitor.
Dykes drove his penalty low and hard down the middle and under Bachmann’s body. A slice of good luck, certainly, yet the same applied to Austria’s lumbering central defender. Hinteregger had already been booked for a dangerous lunge on Callum McGregor and was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for his wrestling manoeuvre on Adams.
The match official was booed off at half-time having further enraged the home crowd by rejecting Austria’s appeals for a penalty. O’Donnell caught Christoph Baumgartner with a stray arm as they challenged for a corner but the referee was right to allow play to continue, and the sight of three Scotland players throwing themselves in the way of Konrad Laimer’s subsequent effort epitomised their first-half resistance.
Arnautovic was lucky to escape punishment for a deliberate shoulder charge into the face of Billy Gilmour. VAR came to Scotland’s rescue when Grant Hanley was booked for pulling Hinteregger as they jostled for position at a corner. The review concluded that no penalty could be given as the corner kick had not been taken. But the influential defender will miss the Israel game as a consequence of his latest yellow card.
Scotland continued to absorb pressure and stretch Austria’s defence when the opportunity arose. Adams almost capitalised when Bachmann kicked the ground while attempting to clear. O’Donnell found himself clean through on goal following a flowing move involving Gilmour and Adams. The right wing back took the shot early, conscious of Alaba closing in, and Bachmann produced a fine save to prevent O’Donnell finding the far corner. John McGinn blazed over when well-set on the edge of the Austria area.
Craig Gordon had hardly been stretched, despite Austria’s healthy possession, yet the veteran marked his 60th international appearance with a vital stop when Baumgartner met Alaba’s corner with a diving header at close range. When Alaba curled a stoppage-time free-kick over, relief and joy could finally flood through the Scotland ranks.