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Liechtenstein 0 Scotland 1

Oct 9 2011 Mark Guidi, Sunday Mail

CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH was the Scotland hero as his first-half header moved Craig Levein’s side into a play-off position.

The Brighton striker marked his first competitive start for his country by grabbing the goal that delivered a precious three points.

Now all the Scots need to do to guarantee their Euro 2012 dream stays alive is beat world champions Spain on Tuesday night.

That, of course, is one helluva task but we can still sneak through with a defeat if Lithuania do us a favour at home to the Czech Republic.

Levein’s side played well enough in the Rheinpark Stadion last night and should have won by more than one goal.

But all that mattered was securing the points against a country that has improved in the past two years and made life difficult for teams in this section.

Darren Fletcher recovered from tonsillitis to lead out the team but Kenny Miller’s groin injury kept him out and the striker is now a major doubt for the game against the Spaniards.

After Spain’s win over the Czechs on Friday night it was all set up for Levein’s men to take the initiative and move into second place.

In a 4-1-4-1 formation, they started at a high tempo and had the Euro minnows on the back foot.

Liechtenstein keeper Peter Jehle was tested by Alan Hutton and Charlie Adam inside five minutes as Scotland pushed for an early opener.

Stevie Naismith then flashed a header wide before passing up a glorious chance in 20 minutes.

Barry Bannan’s chipped cross picked him out in the box but the Rangers star headed sraight at Jehle from seven yards.

Scotland were playing some fluent football but also showed aggression when it was required.

Liechtenstein weren’t allowed to pass the ball around and couldn’t get their playmaker Mario Frick on the ball.

It seemed a quick goal was inevitable but it failed to come after that opening burst. However, Mackail-Smith’s pace caused problems for the home defence and that was always a source of hope.

That said, the Brighton hitman often looked too isolated.

Scotland were given a warning in 18 minutes when Thomas Beck was allowed to drift in from the left and go about his business unchallenged.

He then let rip from 25 yards and forced Allan McGregor to tip the ball over for an excellent save.

Naismith looked a cert to open the scoring in 23 minutes when he rounded Jehle but the Ibrox ace hit the side-netting from an acute angle when he should have put his side ahead.

Liechtenstein grew into the game and Levein’s troops should have pressed them quicker and in greater numbers higher up the pitch.

The home defence didn’t look comfortable in possession but Scotland failed to punish them when they panicked under pressure.

Adam was excellent in the first half, though, and dominated midfield alongside skipper Fletcher.

What they needed was the guys in front of them to make runs that would open up the Liechtenstein defence and ease all of the pressure.

Bannan almost broke the deadlock when he curled a shot wide from the edge of the box before Phil Bardsley tested Jehle from 30 yards.

The Sunderland full-back then set-up the opener in 32 minutes as Levein’s side finally broke through.

Bardsley chipped a fine ball into the area and Mackail-Smith outjumped Daniel Kaufmann to loop a 10-yard header over Jehle.

It was the striker’s first goal for Scotland and it handed his country a crucial and deserved lead.

His header also warmed up the Tartan Army in what was a bitterly cold evening in Vaduz with snow laying on the mountains over the stadium.

Levein was happy enough with the half-time lead but urged his players to get the second goal as quickly as possible.

They started at a fair pace after the break and Bardsley was just off target with a glancing header from Adam’s corner.

The Sunderland full-back then wasted a much better chance when he ghosted in at the back post to meet Bannan’s delightful diagonal ball.

Bardsley only needed to volley home but tried to bring the ball down instead and took a poor touch.

Adam continued to run the show and made sure the game flowed in the right direction. The Liverpool star made some terrific penetrating runs at the
Liechtenstein defence and they just couldn’t handle him.

But McGregor was back in action in 69 minute and had to look sharp to keep out Nicolas Hasler’s low strike.

Levein responded by making two changes with Celtic youngster James Forrest replacing Bannan and Cardiff’s Don Cowie coming on for Adam.

Liechtenstein had plenty of energy about them in the final 10 minutes and looked a threat.

On the heavy pitch Scotland had tired legs in the closing stages, although Naismith almost killed the game off with a close-range header.

His effort was brilliantly saved by Jehle and the keeper made another fine block to deny Christophe Berra from the corner.

McGregor thankfully remained a spectator at the other end as the Scots limited Liechtenstein’s chances.

With 90 minutes of football to be played on the road to Poland and Ukraine, Levein’s men now are three points away from achieving their goal for the campaign.

That said, depending on what happens in Kaunas, Scotland may not need anything at all.

A victory for Lithuania is probably our best hope.

Taken from the Daily Record

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