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Scotland 1-0 Lithuania

Steven Naismith's second half strike keeps Scotland in with an outside chance of a Euro 2012 play-off spot.

Steven Naismith (left) celebrates after scoring Scotland's decisive goal in their win over Lithuania.
© SNS Group

Scotland grabbed a precious three points in their fight to stay in the race for a Euro 2012 play-off spot, narrowly defeating Lithuania in a 1-0 win at Hampden Park.

Steven Naismith scored the only goal of the game early on in the second period, relief after a first half full of attacking endeavour without any end product.

Darren Fletcher also missed a penalty approaching the end of the first half after Tadas Labukas’ handball, with Zydrunas Karcemarskas keeping out his tame effort.

Craig Levein’s side though put the Hampden support through a torturous final 15 minutes, with Lithuania advancing and going worryingly close to snatching an equaliser.

Levein made four changes to his starting line-up, with Kenny Miller and Scott Brown out due to suspension, Charlie Adam injured and Alan Hutton short on fitness. David Goodwillie came in up front, with Fletcher occupying Adam’s position in between defence and midfield.

Don Cowie and Barry Bannan also came into midfield and the latter was impressive from the off, cutting inside from the right flank and provoking much of Scotland’s attacking play.

Scotland though took time to carve out clear cut chances, despite their dominance in possession, unable to find a telling pass to play a hardworking Goodwillie in on goal.

Christophe Berra got Scotland’s goal attempts tally up and running with 15 minutes on the clock, lofting a back post effort from a corner high and wide. But the Wolverhampton Wanderers defender’s endeavours provoked a number of goal opportunities.

Cowie, Bannan, Phil Bardsley and James Morrison all tested goalkeeper Karcemarskas from distance, with Naismith and Fletcher also going close on a number of occasions.

Lithuania in comparison struggled to advance up the park, despite experimenting with two up front for a spell, with Tadas Labukas heading wide in their only effort of note within the first 40 minutes.

A five minute spell at the end of the first half though was to present glaring opportunities from both teams. A woefully short pass from Gary Caldwell in the Lithuania half following a set play set Lithuania scrambling up the park, with captain Deividas Semberas leading the charge three on one against the Scotland backline.

Caldwell and Steven Whittaker raced towards goal to prevent the opportunity and, following indecisive play from Semberas on the edge of the area, Whittaker bravely slid in to dispossess the player at a critical moment.

Three minutes later, Scotland had their own golden chance to take the lead. Labukas’ hand ball from a Bannan free kick saw referee Kristinn Jakobsson point to the spot, with captain Fletcher stepping up.

The Manchester United midfielder shrugged off the attentions of Bannan to assume responsibility but failed to give the hosts the advantage, with his poor penalty turned away by a diving Karcemarskas.

Four minutes after the interval though, Scotland had their lead. Bannan, who tied the Lithuanians up in knots throughout the first half, played through a clever ball for Naismith. The Rangers forward slid in to lift the ball into the roof of the net from eight yards.

Goodwillie was overly keen to mark his full international debut with a goal, trying his luck from distance and also failing to take occasionally better options of a pass, but continued to be a nuisance with his direct running.

As Lithuania grew into the game, Scotland were limited to building up attacks on the counter. Goalscorer Naismith had two headed attempts in quick succession, with the second – a free header at the near post – bouncing well wide.

Scotland twice failed to hold onto their lead against Czech Republic on Saturday and those inside Hampden were anxiously watching on as a narrow formation allowed Lithuania room to launch wave after wave of attack through the middle and down the flanks.

Leading scorer Tomas Danilevicius first went close with 16 minutes left on the clock, finding room between the central defenders from a Novikovas cross, only to glance his header wide of McGregor’s left hand post.

The Hearts man then caught McGregor all ends up with a ferocious dipping effort from the right flank as the game wore on, only to see his effort just fail to dip in enough time to find the top left hand corner.

Naismith then had an attempt to kill the game off with a minute to go, only to see an overhead effort sail over the crossbar. Lithuania then again flooded forward, but Scotland held firm to secure a vital three points.

Levein’s men now have eight points from six games, leaving them two points behind Czech Republic in the race for a Euro 2012 play-off spot. Two games are left for both sides, with Scotland going to Liechtenstein and Spain in October.

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