06.09.2019 22:49 h

Russia strike back to sink Scotland

Scotland's hopes of automatic qualification for next year's European championships suffered a huge blow as Russia came from behind to win 2-1 at Hampden on Friday.

John McGinn's early opener was just reward for Scotland's bright start, but Artem Dzyuba's equaliser five minutes before half-time sapped the hosts' energy and belief.

Russia controlled the second period and could have won by more than a solitary goal when Stephen O'Donnell turned Aleksandr Golovin's dangerous cross into his own net on the hour mark.

After opening their campaign with a disastrous 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan that ultimately cost Alex McLeish his job, Scotland are playing catch up and needed a win to maintain realistic ambitions of finishing in the top two positions of Group I.

Belgium, who visit Hampden on Monday, lead the group on 15 points with Russia just three behind in second place, six ahead of the Scots who sit fourth behind Kazakhstan.

Scotland will now likely have to come through a playoff next March, earned by winning their group in the Nations League, to reach a first major tournament in 24 years.

Steve Clarke was taking charge of just his third match as Scotland boss and optimism he can turn around his nation's fortunes was in evidence in the first 20 minutes.

Russia were forced back with the talented trio of Andy Robertson, Ryan Fraser and Callum McGregor a constant danger down the left.

It was from a set-piece that Scotland first threatened as O'Donnell back-heeled a loose ball off the post.

Just 11 minutes in, the hosts led as Fraser's low cross was horribly spilled by Russian goalkeeper Guilherme and McGinn gratefully slotted into an unguarded net.

However, the World Cup quarter-finalists quickly wrestled back control and could have levelled within five minutes as the towering presence of 6ft 4in (196cm) Dzyuba got above Charlie Mulgrew for a looping header David Marshall did well to tip over the bar.

Scotland were dragged deeper towards their own goal as the half wore on and it was no surprise when Russia did equalise as Dzyuba this time showed a fleetness of foot to drill low past Marshall after the ball rebounded into his path off Robertson.

Russia's superior class shone through at the start of the second half with Monaco midfielder Golovin pulling the strings.

Golovin should have scored when he sauntered through the Scotland midfield only to fire over and also saw a goalbound effort blocked by Mulgrew.

However, he did play a big part in his side's second as he was too quick and clever for Liam Cooper with a square ball from which O'Donnell put into his own net under pressure from Yuri Zhirkov.

Marshall then made a brilliant save to turn Mario Fernandes's header onto the bar and Magomed Ozdoev struck the outside of the post as the visitors threatened to run riot.

The Wigan goalkeeper made another stunning stop to deny Zhirkov a spectacular goal on his 90th cap to keep Scotland in the game.

But it was to no avail on another sobering night for Scotland.