SCOTLAND knew the pressure was on in Yerevan.
Despite a horror start against Armenia that would have made fears of a repeat of Saturday’s Dublin debacle very real, Steve Clarke’s men came roaring back.
A thumping 4-1 come from behind victory eased the pressure on the head coach, who after two years of what sometimes felt like non-stop positivity, was beginning to feel the heat.
Some big names were missing – skipper Andy Robertson didn’t make the trip to Yerevan through injury, and neither did Scott McKenna or John Souttar who are also carrying knocks.
Four changes were made from the dismal Dublin dismantling, with Billy Gilmour, Stuart Armstrong, Greg Taylor and Nathan Patterson all coming in. Anthony Ralston and Ryan Christie the players, along with Robertson and McKenna, to drop out.
In the build-up to the game, Clarke insisted his future wasn’t up for discussion, while Callum McGregor had called on the nation to keep the faith with the team.
That faith was tested to the max just six minutes into the match in Yerevan.
The Armenians, who showed they were no pushovers by defeating the Republic of Ireland the weekend before last, breezed into an early lead.
It was a defensive shambles for Scotland.
Tigran Barseghyan went head-to-head with Grant Hanley in a duel down the right hand side. The Armenia number 11 brushed the big defender aside with all too much ease and burst away with a clear pathway to the box.
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He got to the byline before sending a low ball into the box.
Scott McTominay didn’t get close enough, allowing Vahan Bichakhchyan to find a bit of space. He blasted in past the helpless Craig Gordon from five yards out.
An absolutely calamitous start for Clarke’s men, who knew the had to respond.
Much to the relief of all concerned, that’s exactly what happened.
Behind for just eight minutes, the Scots came firing back in the form of Stuart Armstrong.
Jack Hendry sent a well-weighted ball into Che Adams. The Southampton front man took a nice touch, setting himself up for an overhead kick.
The execution was all wrong from the striker, but his miscued effort bounced towards his club teammate Armstrong, who slotted a superb low drive into the bottom corner for his first Scotland goal since 2019.
The Scots kept on flirting with danger, however, and Armenia had the ball in the net again moments later.
A ball over the top saw Khorem Bayramyan get in behind the back three. Scott McTominay got back to block, but the midfielder finished at the second attempt.
The assistant referee’s flag offered a reprieve however, with offside the verdict. VAR Kevin Blom (yes, that Kevin Blom of Jan Rezek/Czech Republic/Hampden infamy) thankfully agreed.
Adams fired just wide as Scotland looked to go ahead, while Nathan Patterson totally fluffed his lines when a good opening fell his way.
Armstrong showed some clever footwork down the left hand side before finding the Everton defender near the penalty spot – his effort, however, went in the completely wrong direction.
A huge turning point in the final minute of normal time went in Scotland’s favour. It came in the form of a moment – or rather, two moments – of madness.
Armenia defender Arman Hovhannisyan went flying into a reckless challenge on Patterson.
As the referee was running over with yellow card in hand, the Armenia defender inexplicably thrust his head into John McGinn’s face.
It was a crazy thing to do and the yellow card very quickly became a red one and the hosts were down to ten men.
Scotland were quick to take advantage and turn the game right around, and in absolutely sublime style.
McGinn, who has struggled to find his best form during this international window, produced a sensational back heeled flick to find Armstrong in the box.
The former Celtic and Dundee United man showed wonderful control once again to set up the shot.
Despite being off balance, Armstrong brilliantly fired into the far corner to give Scotland the half-time lead.
Scotland were in no mood to hang around in the second half either, bagging goal number three just five minutes into the second 45.
Greg Taylor got to the byline and sent in an excellent ball to the back post.
There waiting was Patterson, who controlled the ball well and pushed it into McGinn’s path.
The stand-in skipper showed a brilliant touch, before chesting the ball down, swivelling and blasting in from close range.
No sooner was it 3-1 and it was 4-1 – and game over.
The fourth came at the end of an emphatic counter attacking move.
Armstrong, having one of his finest Scotland performances, was at the very heart of it again. He charged forward in possession, before beautifully finding Adams who had got himself clear down the left hand side.
The striker took the ball into the box, cut inside and fired a lovely curling finish into the net. Two goals in three minutes, and three points all but secured.
Armstrong, whose two goals so far had doubled his tally of international goals to four, was in the mood and he was very close to a hat trick.
Another counter attack saw the 29-year old bear down on the box. He pinged a lovely curling effort towards the far corner, but it curled just wide of the post.
The pressure was absolutely relentless, and for the first time in a while, Scotland looked like they were enjoying their football.
Adams was next to go close again, his point blank effort well parried away by David Yurchenko in the peppered Armenia goal.
That was just about that. The rest of the game petered out with a slew of substitutions, and it was Armenia who created a couple of late chances.
There was an international debut to come.
Luton star Allan Campbell, called up to the squad as a replacement for the injured Ryan Jack, came on for the last five minutes to finish-off a superb season for himself personally with his first Scotland cap.
Armenia’s second half ended in similar fashion to the way the first ended – a man named Hovhannisyan losing his head and being sent off.
This time it was skipper Kamo Hovhannisyan who lunged into a disgraceful, high challenge on Lewis Ferguson that caught the Aberdeen man on his shin. It was an absolute shocker.
Thankfully, the Scotland midfielder was okay.
The ref was quickly over and brandishing his red card to the Armenia number 13. They finished with nine men.
The final whistle went, and this time, no reason for any boos from the travelling Tartan Army support.
After an international break full of disappointment and uncertainties, the Nations League campaign is just about back on track.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism