Anthony Ralston and Scott McKenna bag first Scotland goals in Nations League win
Anthony Ralston and Scott McKenna bagged their first international goals as Scotland began their Nations League campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Armenia. A week after 2022 World Cup hopes ended with a demoralising defeat to Ukraine in the play-off semi-final at the national stadium, Steve Clarke’s side took care of a team ranked 92nd in their Group B1 opener. Celtic full-back Ralston, making his first Scotland start, headed the home side in front in the before Nottingham Forest stopper McKenna doubled the lead with a header five minutes from the break.
Sign up to Edinburgh Live newsletters for more headlines straight to your inbox It was a less than stressful night for Scotland who travel to play the Republic of Ireland on Saturday before an away game against Armenia in Yerevan on June 14, with Ukraine also in the group, but three points is a positive start. There had been an air of despondency around Scottish football since the chance to go to Qatar later in the year was taken away.
Hampden, packed out for the visit of Ukraine, was less busy and certainly less noisy for Scotland’s first-ever game against Armenia, who had begun their campaign with a surprise 1-0 home win over the Republic of Ireland at the weekend. Clarke made six changes with Ralston earning his second cap while fellow defenders McKenna, Jack Hendry and John Souttar were drafted in along with midfielders Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong. READ MORE: Hibs and Rangers ‘keeping tabs’ on West Ham youngster Emmanuel Longelo
Armenia boss Joaquin Caparros hoped for another upset for the League B newcomers but they were in defensive mode from the start and escaped in the fifth minute when Armstrong hit the outside of the post with a low drive from 12 yards. Moments later, Armenia keeper David Yurchenko got his hand to a drive from skipper Andy Robertson before saving a close-range header from Hendry. The visitors looked to be offering nothing in attack but in the 13th minute they sprung the offside trap but Eduard Spertsyan’s effort was too weak to bother keeper Craig Gordon.
Hampden fell into silence as Scotland’s threat subsided but came alive again in the 28th minute when the home side went ahead with a simple enough goal. Armstrong took a pass from Robertson and clipped a cross to the back post where Ralston came racing in to head across Yurchenko and into the net. The goal took any anxiety out of the Scots’ game and in the 40th minute McKenna rose at the back post and headed in a John McGinn corner to open his Scotland account on his 25th appearance.
The big defender had the ball in the net again in added time after initially hitting the bar but after a VAR check referee Sebastian Gishamer ruled offside. Armenia made a triple change for the start of the second half – Wbeymar, Vahan Bichakhchyan and Taran Voskanyan came on – but the Scots remained in control. In the 57th minute Christie badly miscued a header from a McGinn cross before Armenia threatened on the break a couple of times.
In the 75th minute, Clarke freshened up the side with Nathan Patterson, Aaron Hickey and Scott McTominay replacing Ralston, Robertson and Armstrong. Five minutes later, amid the returning rain Yurchenko tipped a McGinn thunderbolt from 18 yards onto the bar and Armenia eventually escaped. Sunderland striker Ross Stewart came on to make his debut in the 87th minute – he replaced Christie while Jacob Brown took over from Che Adams.
There will be bigger challenges ahead for the Scots but they did what they had to do against a very limited side.