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Liechtenstein 0 - 1 Scotland: Craig Mackail-Smith rises to the occasion

Not since September 2008, in Reykjavik, had Scotland scored an away goal in a competitive match. Although the temperature high in the Alps dipped towards freezing, Mackail-Smith's header helped soothe some fevered brows.

The blond striker worked the channels well as Scotland looked to seize the early advantage they craved. Levein was true to his word, having suggested that Mackail-Smith would not always be the target. Players frequently exchanged positions but while this movement initially seemed to out-fox the home side, there was no tangible reward.

An up-tempo start saw Naismith pass up three good opportunities. Such profligacy gave rise to a sense of unease in the Tartan Army ranks.

This anxiety wasn't helped by Allan McGregor becoming the first of the two keepers required to make a save, tipping a fine Thomas Beck effort from outside the box over the bar after 18 minutes.

Rain teemed down and the mountains which loom over the stadium in Vaduz were partially obscured by low-lying cloud. Pockets of snow simply added to the wintry scene. A flag in the home stand suggested we were being welcomed to an "inferno". It was, however, nothing of the sort, although the Scotland manager might have feared being flung into a flaming pit were his side to fail in the object of their mission, which was to claim three points.

It felt like a home from home for Scotland, whose fans made up the majority of the crowd.

Futile requests were made across the Tannoy for the fans to refrain from standing. But this wasn't a night for calmly sitting back in your seat. Scotland's Euro 2012 hopes clung to a precipice in the Alps, and Liechtenstein were proving just as obdurate as feared.

Scotland dreaded ruing Naismith's missed opportunities. The first came after 11 minutes, when he glanced a header just past the post after a clever free-kick from Darren Fletcher. Nine minutes later he botched an even easier header after Barry Bannan's ball to the back post. Naismith's effort was straight at the experienced Peter Jehle, and the Liechtenstein keeper easily gathered.

The hat-trick of missed chances was completed after the referee waved play on despite Mackail-Smith having been flagged for off-side. Naismith took the ball on and rounded the keeper but then fell to the floor in anguish as his shot hit the side-netting.

Despite the high-altitude setting, Scotland were able to breathe a little more easily at half-time, however. Mackail-Smith, whose place in the side had been the subject of constant speculation as Kenny Miller battled to recover from a groin injury, was in the right place at the right time to loop a header over the advancing Jehle after Phil Bardsley's cross. A booking for a foul shortly afterwards could not dampen the Brighton striker's joy. Levein must also have felt some vindication after his determined pursuit of a player whose Scottish credentials come courtesy of an Edinburgh-born grandmother.

Mackail-Smith, dirt smeared across the back of his yellow shirt, was posting a performance of which Miller himself might have been proud. However, the narrow lead meant Scotland had also to be wary. Bardsley headed over from a Adam corner and then just failed to control the ball at the far post after Bannan's cross, and when in a promising position. But Liechtenstein could not be counted out. They continued to nibble at Scotland and could so easily have snatched an equaliser through Nicolas Hasler.

His angled shot, from the edge of the box, was well saved by McGregor as Levein prepared to make his first changes.

Bannan - again the subject of choruses of praise from the Tartan Army - made way for James Forrest, and then Adam departed to be replaced by Don Cowie. Scotland held on, with Naismith almost capping the win with a powerful header from 18 yards that pulled a fabulous save from Jehle.

It was hardly a famous victory. Rarely, however, have they posted a more vital one.

Taken from the Scotsman

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