Albania 0-4 Scotland: Alex McLeish's team reignite Nations League promotion hopes
Fraser, Fletcher and Forrest goals mean Scotland can now move up to League B with win over Israel at Hampden
By Andrew Dickson
Last Updated: 18/11/18 12:33pm
Scotland reignited their hopes of promotion to League B in the Nations League as goals from Ryan Fraser, Steven Fletcher and James Forrest gave them a 4-0 win in Albania.
Alex McLeish's side scored early through Fraser, with Mergim Mavraj's red card for the hosts and a Fletcher penalty leaving them in a commanding position by half-time.
Forrest clinched victory with a second-half double and Scotland must now beat Israel at Hampden Park on Tuesday to move up a tier.
A draw would see them remain in League C - with the result in Shkoder meaning Albania are relegated to League D.
The home side did, however, make much of the early running, with Taulant Xhaka - brother of Arsenal midfielder Granit - and Eros Grezda heavily involved.
Indeed, they should have gone in front in the opening exchanges and Egzon Binaku's sumptuous free-kick gave Myrto Uzuni a chance to head in but he failed to connect.
Instead, it was Scotland who edged ahead 14 minutes in as Fraser scored his first goal for his country.
Ryan Christie, making his first competitive start, won possession and released the Bournemouth winger, who cut in from the left before bending a low right-footed effort in from 20 yards.
After a spate of withdrawals, Hamburg defender David Bates made his debut for Scotland while Steven Fletcher returned for his first appearance in more than two years.
Albania’s team was an experienced one, with four of their players plying their trade in Italy, one in Spain and winger Eros Grezda playing in the Scottish Premiership with Rangers.
Scotland's hopes increased further midway through the first half when Albanian captain Mavraj was sent off.
At first it seemed he had escaped with a booking after fouling Forrest, but referee Vladislav Bezborodov had little option but to dismiss him for the headbutt on Christie which followed.
Good running from Forrest set up his Celtic team-mate Christie but he fired wide and Fletcher would have scored had he slid to meet another inviting Forrest delivery.
Fraser then had another attempt saved by goalkeeper Marco Wolfli before Steven Fletcher's goal-bound effort was deflected clear.
Fletcher would get the second seconds before the break but whether he should have was certainly debatable.
Bezborodov gave a penalty when Stuart Armstrong's free-kick struck Rey Manaj's arm but while the award seemed harsh, it stood and the Sheffield Wednesday striker converted to double the lead.
Albania: Wolfli (5), Veseli (4), Djimshiti (4), Majrav (2), Binaku (5), Uzuni (4), Kace (3), Xhaka (6), Grezda (6), Memushaj (4), Manaj (4).
Subs: Ismajli (4), Dermaku (4), Balaj (4).
Scotland: A McGregor (6), Paterson (6), Robertson (6), Bates (6), McKenna (7), C McGregor (7), Forrest (8), Armstrong (6), Fletcher (6), Christie (7), Fraser (7).
Subs: Subs: McTominay (4), Phillips (4), Russell (4).
Man of the match: James Forrest
Scotland made sure of their win 10 minutes after the restart when Forrest broke clear to apply a finish after Christie's pass to claim his first goal for his country.
David Bates looked to have got in on the act as well but although his effort was disallowed, Forrest did add another with a composed finish after Fraser's cutback to seal an emphatic victory.
- Scotland recorded their biggest victory in an international game under Alex McLeish, in what was the Scot's 19th game in charge (across two spells).
- Scotland have only lost one of their last nine competitive games (W6 D2), with this the sixth clean sheet that they have kept in this run.
- Since returning for his second spell as the Scotland manager, two of Alex McLeish's three wins have come against Albania (P9 W3 D0 L6).
- Despite having 58% possession in the game, Albania failed to record a shot on target over the course of 90 minutes (Scotland had six).
- Ryan Fraser has been directly involved in 13 goals in 16 appearances for club and country combined in 2018-19 (five goals and eight assists).
- James Forrest scored his first two goals for the senior Scotland team, converting with both of his shots on target in the game.
- Steven Fletcher scored his first goal for Scotland since September 2016, when he netted in a 5-1 victory over Malta.
Man of the match - James Forrest
The Celtic winger is having an excellent season and took his goals well, particularly the second which he teed up with a delightful flick before volleying home. His direct approach caused Albania problems all night and could easily have resulted in another couple of goals for others.
Scotland take on Israel on Tuesday knowing victory will move them up to League B - but a draw would see the visitors progress instead by virtue of a better head-to-head record. Albania play Wales in a friendly at the same time knowing they'll be in League D when the Nations League runs again in late 2020.