Skrtel own goal keeps Scotland's World Cup hopes alive


Scotland's 2018 World Cup hopes remain alive after a sensational late winner in the 1-0 victory over 10-man Slovakia at Hampden Park.

Midway through the first-half midfielder Robert Mak, booked earlier for a foul on wide-man James Forrest, was deemed by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic to have dived inside the Scots' penalty area as he went past keeper Craig Gordon and picked up a second yellow.

Substitute Chris Martin and Leigh Griffiths both his the crossbar with strikes after the break and with Slovakia keeper Martin Dubravka having a remarkable night in goals it looked like it would be another hard luck story.

However, with two minutes of regulation time remaining a cross from another substitute, Ikechi Anya, was turned into his own goal by Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel under pressure from Martin.

The national stadium went wild with delight.

England are through as Group F winners while Gordon Strachan's side face Slovenia away in their final fixture on Sunday in second place, two points ahead of Slovakia, but probably still needing a win as Jan Kozak's side are playing minnows Malta.

With skipper Scott Brown and fellow Celtic midfielder Stuart Armstrong out through injury, Darren Fletcher and James Morrison returned along with Barry Bannan as goalkeeper Gordon earned his 50th cap.

Scotland, playing in their pink kit and captained by Fletcher, set about their not inconsiderable task with no real haste.

There was a penalty claim in the ninth minute when Kieran Tierney, again playing at right-back, appeared to be body-checked by Mak inside the Slovakia box but referee Mazic was unimpressed.

Scotland slowly tightened their grip and 10 minutes later Slovakia keeper Dubravka pulled off a terrific save from Christophe Berra's close-range header after the Hearts stopper had got on to the end of a Leigh Griffiths cross from the right.

Then came the sending off which changed the dynamic.

Mak, already on a booking, deservedly picked up a second yellow card for diving inside the box as Gordon came out to challenge.

After Mak made his reluctant departure, the Tartan Army urged Scotland forward but in the 32nd minute Gordon had to rush from his goal to foil Stanislav Lobotka, who had worked a clever one-two with Adam Nemec inside the penalty area.

It was a reminder of Slovakia's pace on the break but three minutes later, at the other end, Griffiths took a pass from Forrest, turned inside and curled a shot from the edge of the box which was heading into the far corner until Dubravka dived to his right to parry clear.

Anxiety began to envelop Hampden in the second half and Gordon had to deal with a Lobotka drive and powerful shot by Jan Gregus as the visitors again menaced on the counter-attack.

In a 60th-minute reshuffle, Strachan replaced Forrest with burly striker Martin and moments later Dubravka made a remarkable save from Griffiths' 25-yard thunderbolt at the expense of a corner which came to nothing.

Tension mounted further as the game entered the final stages.

In the 69th minute Martin, who had scored a late winner earlier in the campaign against Slovenia, rattled the crossbar with a terrific long-range strike and Griffiths did the same with a free-kick from similar distance before Dubravka denied Morrison from barely six yards out, then blocked an effort from Andy Robertson.

James McArthur replaced Fletcher and Anya came on for Tierney for the final 10 minutes.

And with two minutes remaining great work by Griffiths set up Anya and when his cross from the right came in it was turned into his own net by Skrtel as he was challenged by Martin and Hampden Park exploded with joy and hope of Russia next summer.

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