Scotland 2-0 Malta: Gordon Strachan's side maintain Group F charge
Last Updated: 05/09/17 9:24am
Scotland enhanced their chances of qualification for the 2018 World Cup with a 2-0 win over Malta at Hampden Park on Monday.
Goals from Christophe Berra (10) and Leigh Griffiths (48) saw off the minnows as Scotland moved to within one point of Slovakia in second place in Group F, after they lost 2-1 to England at Wembley.
Scotland have now won 10 points from their last four games after only winning four points from their opening four World Cup Qualifiers.
Gordon Strachan's men have two matches remaining and go into them knowing that six points will be enough to guarantee the runners-up spot and almost certainly a play-off place. Those games are a monumental home clash with Slovakia (October 5) and a trip to Slovenia (October 8).
Scotland: Gordon (6), Tierney (6), Mulgrew (7), Berra (7), Robertson (8), Brown (7), McArthur (7), Armstrong (8), Forrest (7), Phillips (8), Griffiths (7)
Subs: Martin (6)
Malta: Hogg (6), Magri (4), Agius (4), Z. Muscat (5), Borg (5), Fenech (5), Zerafa (5), Kristensen (6), Pisani (5), Schembri (5), Effiong (5)
Subs: Gambin (6), Fenech (6)
Man of the match: Stuart Armstrong
Scotland have failed to qualify for the last nine major tournaments since the 1998 World Cup in France, but showed no early nerves in this must-win encounter, scoring inside 11 minutes.
Griffiths whipped in a corner from the right flank which found Berra towering over his marker at the back post. He thumped home his fourth international goal.
That should have set the platform for Scotland to grab plenty of goals against a team who have not won in their last 21 competitive games (D2 L19).
However, they were restricted to long shots which failed to seriously trouble visiting goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.
There was a feeling that Scotland were playing with the handbrake on and they put their foot on the gas just after the break to double their lead.
Gordon Strachan named an unchanged team in the hope of maintaining the confident attacking showing in the 3-0 victory over Lithuania, where they created ample scoring opportunities.
Andrew Robertson had the beating of his man on the left flank all night and he used his pace to fly into the box on 50 minutes. His cross was turned towards goal by James Morrison. That effort came back off the post but Griffiths was on hand to turn home from close range.
Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon had little to do but in the 75th minute made a decent double-save, first from Joseph Zerafa's angled-drive then from striker Alfred Effiong's follow-up attempt.
Griffiths limped off late on with a calf injury - but that was a minor blip on a job well done for Strachan's men.
Man of the match - Stuart Armstrong
Energy and creative passing is always needed when trying to break down defensively-minded teams like Malta and Armstrong provided the magic in midfield with another accomplished display. He's fast becoming one of Strachan's main men in this improving Scotland side.
Manager reaction - Gordon Strachan
"As long as everybody keeps fit and healthy [we can qualify]. The good players play well and we meet up again and hopefully we'll have a choice of guys on top form - 23 guys on top form.
"I think...the last group we were involved in...Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland...that was a fantastic and hard group. All them went on to do well in the finals and we knew how hard it was going to be. But again we've made it kind of a roller-coaster ride."
• Scotland have only lost one of their last 10 competitive home games (W6 D3).
• Scotland have won each of their last six games against Malta, and remain unbeaten against them in all competitions (W6 D1).
• Malta remain without a goal on their travels to Great Britain or Ireland, shipping 38 in the process.
• Scotland attempted 25 shots in the game, their most in 13 games, since mustering 30 v Gibraltar in October 2015.
• Griffiths has been directly involved in six goals in his last three games for Scotland (3 goals, 3 assists).
Scotland host Slovakia in a barnstorming qualifier at Hampden Park in October which you can watch live on Sky Sports Football.