Struggling Scotland dug deep into their reserves in more ways than one for a goalless draw against Ukraine to win their Nations League group and secure promotion to League A.
Steve Clarke’s side, exhausted by injuries and suspension, needed just one point to finish top of Group B1 and they had to play their luck at times before celebrating a massive result at Cracovia Stadium.
Ukraine, beaten 3-0 at Hampden Park last week, missed two good chances notably in the first half and goalkeeper Craig Gordon looked unbeatable.
Scotland finished two points ahead of Oleksandr Petrakov’s side at the top of Group B1 and, aside from promotion to the top tier, a place in the second seeds for the Championship qualifiers. Europe and a play-off place for this competition if the normal qualifying campaign does. not go to the plan was also secure.
Clarke’s team was stripped of several starters, mostly on defense.
Grant Hanley, Liam Cooper and skipper Andy Robertson had failed to make the squad for the triple header due to injury and they were joined on the sidelines by, among others, Kieran Tierney, Nathan Patterson, Scott McKenna and Scott McTominay, the latter suspended, while a virus had also affected the camp.
In the event, there were six changes from the weekend’s win over the Republic of Ireland with 23-year-old Hibernian defender Ryan Porteous on his debut and Kenny McLean, Greg Taylor, Ryan Jack, Ryan Fraser and Che Adams back in the side.
The match was played in Poland due to Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and officially there were 3,000 tartan army men inside the 15,000 seater stadium making a lot of noise so that the Scots were deliberately starting.
In the second minute, Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin saved Adams’ shot to the right post for a corner which was defended.
Ukraine settled down and should have gone forward in the seventh minute when speedy winger Mykhailo Mudryk picked unmarked captain Andriy Yarmolenko at the far post, but he flew high over the bar with only Gordon to beat.
There was another let-go for the Scots in the 22nd minute when Artem Dovbyk ran over Yarmolenko’s wonderful pass and passed Porteous, but the veteran Hearts keeper was on par with the shot.
There was drama minutes later when Greek referee Tasos Sidiropoulos awarded Scotland a penalty for a Taras Stepanenko handball into the box after a Fraser shot but ruled it out after a VAR check.
In the 31st minute, Jack fired over the bar from 16 yards out after the Blue and Yellow struggled with another corner, before an unmarked Stepanenko headed in the other end. a Ukrainian corner.
Gordon made two good saves early in the second half, from Mudryk and Danylo Ihnatenko.
Ukraine continued to be thwarted by the offside flag, but they looked more likely to make the breakthrough with sliding Illia Zabarnyi who hit a shot over the bar from close range.
In the 70th minute, as the rain continued to drizzle, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie and Stephen Kingsley came on for Taylor, Fraser and Jack before Lyndon Dykes replaced Adams.
Scotland had to fend off mounting pressure from Ukraine – Stepanenko fired wide – and they fought with all they had through four minutes of added time to hold on to the point that has so many positive ramifications.