George Burley survived to fight another day as Scotland manager as goals from Scott Brown and James McFadden secured a crucial win over Macedonia to keep their World Cup play-off hopes alive. Pressure had been mounting on Burley since last month's 4-0 loss in Norway left the nation's chances of qualifying for next summer's finals in South Africa in the balance and he knew defeat at Hampden today could have spelled the end of his tenure. But Scotland rose to the challenge after a nervous first half had ended goalless when Brown claimed his first international goal after the restart and McFadden ensured the victory late on ahead of another crunch game on Wednesday night against Holland. Unsurprisingly, there were significant changes from the defeat in Norway. Craig Gordon had recovered from injury to reclaim the gloves from David Marshall and veteran defender David Weir was recalled to the squad following his omission for the clash in Oslo. Stephen McManus made his first competitive outing since suffering a knee injury last season when he partnered Weir in the heart of defence and McFadden was back in the starting line-up after controversially being named on the bench last time.
McFadden the hero
Simulation had dominated the headlines in recent weeks and German referee Wolfgang Stark was unimpressed when Goran Pandev went to ground under minimal contact with just 25 seconds on the clock. However, less than a minute later, Macedonia's star striker had earned a free-kick just outside the box after being bundled over by Weir in a dangerous position. A short ball was played to Goce Sedloski but his effort cannoned off the body of Brown. The visitors continued to push for the goal that would deflate the near-capacity crowd and Gordon was called into action to produce a decent save and block from Pandev at his right-hand post. Scotland were forced to make a change with just 13 minutes gone when Callum Davidson left the action and was replaced by Steven Whittaker. Brown had seen a decent effort whistle past the post earlier in the game and was threatening again when he ran onto a Darren Fletcher free-kick before racing into the box and rippling the side-netting with a well-struck shot. This may have been a must-win game for Scotland, and Burley in particular, but it was Macedonia who looked more likely to open the scoring in what was becoming an increasingly tense atmosphere at Hampden. The home defence looked nervous and Gordon was forced to come to the rescue after McManus allowed Pandev through on goal, before the striker hooked over the crossbar after Weir failed to deal with a cross from the left. Gordon was then called into action again to block a 25-yard drive from Pandev, before Whittaker cleared the danger. There was a furore when Brown won a corner rather than allow possession to return to Macedonia, from a bounce ball after one of visiting players was injured. However, the home side failed to capitalise and McFadden succeeded only in picking up a costly yellow card in the flurry of handbags that followed Brown's actions which rules him out of the clash against Holland.
Scotland could have been ahead five minutes after the restart when Nikolce Noveski's attempts to clear a Steven Fletcher ball from the right saw him inadvertently prod into the path of McFadden but the Birmingham forward blasted wide. Gordon was then forced to deny Pandev for a third time after Macedonia's all-time top goalscorer found himself through on goal and one on one with the Scotland goalkeeper. Scotland did look more dangerous in the second half and goalkeeper Jane Nikoloski spilled the ball after blocking from Kenny Miller but Steven Fletcher slid in just too late to connect at the back post. Hampden erupted when the the elusive opener arrived after 56 minutes when Brown beat Sedloski to the ball and connected with a Steven Fletcher cross to direct a header past the Macedonia goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net. The visitors could have restored parity when Pandev broke away down the left flank before whipping an inviting ball to the feet of Slavco Georgievski but he squandered a great opportunity to level by blasting wide of the upright. Scotland should have doubled their advantage when Miller bore down on goal from the right flank only to see his effort flash across the face of goal and inches wide of the target. Instead, the honours went to McFadden. A terrific solo effort saw him collect the ball on the halfway line before skipping past Sedloski and rounding the goalkeeper before coolly slotting into the back of the net with 10 minutes to go. Scotland saw out the remainder of the game to claim the crucial three points, knowing they must do it all again when Group Nine winners Holland come to Hampden on Wednesday night.
That's the way to do it
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
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