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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Expect late drama from the Scotland bench

Strachan's men must push for victory

Scotland's Leigh Griffiths (left) and Scott Brown celebrate against England
1 of 1

World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Friday

Scotland's last World Cup qualifier against England featured a whirlwind finale and there could be more late drama when Gordon Strachan’s men travel to Lithuania.

England led the Scots 1-0 with just three minutes of normal time remaining at Hampden Park but two Leigh Griffiths free-kicks and an injury-time equaliser from Harry Kane meant the old rivals shared a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Had Scotland held on to their late lead over the Three Lions then Group F would have been far tighter, with England and Slovakia on 12 points, Slovenia on 11 and Strachan’s charges lurking with intent on ten.

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As it is, though, assistant manager Mark McGhee is probably correct in his assessment that: “We can’t afford any more mistakes – we have to win all four games”.

Bookmakers rate the Scots odds-on shots to tick off the first of those victories in Vilnius and those cramped odds may not appeal to punters who witnessed the reverse fixture in Glasgow last October.

Scotland were knocked out of their stride by an energetic Lithuania side and needed an 89th-minute equaliser from James McArthur to claim a 1-1 draw.

Late goals have been a theme of the campaign – as well as the frantic finish to the England game, Scotland grabbed an 88th-minute winner against Slovenia through Chris Martin in March, and four of their five goals against Malta came after the 53rd minute.

Lithuania supporters also know better than to leave their games early.

Five of their six qualifying games have featured at least one goal in the last 15 minutes and the exception was the 2-0 defeat away to England, who missed several chances to add to their second goal, scored in the 66th minute by Jamie Vardy.

Betway offer 11-8 about the last goal coming in the 76th minute or later and that looks a tempting price given both teams’ recent trends – and the Scots’ desperation for three points.

Strachan has faced criticism over his omission of Celtic’s Callum McGregor, who has scored in three of his four Ladbrokes Premiership outings this season, but he pointed out an abundance of options in midfield.

If the starters are unable to break down their hosts then a bench including artful midfielders Barry Bannan, Ryan Fraser, James Forrest and Matt Ritchie could do the damage late on.

Derby striker Martin and experienced Steven Naismith provide further reserve firepower against a Lithuania side who conceded twice in the final 13 minutes of their opening game of the campaign – a 2-2 home draw with Slovenia.

A goal to be scored in 76th minute or later
2pts 11-8 Betway

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Team news
Goalkeeper Emilijus Zubas may get the nod over Ernestas Setkus while striker Nerijus Valskis is banned. Hibernian duo Vykintas Slivka and Deivydas Matulevicius will be eager to impress against the Scots.

Steven Fletcher and Tom Cairney are out and Darren Fletcher is a doubt. James Morrison proved his fitness in West Brom’s 1-1 draw with Stoke and could start in midfield.

Key stat
Four of Scotland’s last five goals have come in the 87th minute or later. 

Had Scotland held on to their late lead over the Three Lions then Group F would have been far tighter
E.W. Terms
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