Soccer

Armenia 1 – 4 Scotland: Stuart Armstrong's double helps Scotland thrash nine-man Armenia


The Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan boasts views of historic Mount Ararat off in the distance.

The dormant volcano 35 miles away in neighbouring Turkey is where scriptures declare to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.

What better place, then, for the under-fire Steve Clarke to ultimately steady the ship after weathering an almighty first-half storm?

Stuart Armstrong (right) scored two goals in the first-half to put Scotland 2-1 up at the break

Stuart Armstrong (right) scored two goals in the first-half to put Scotland 2-1 up at the break

This was a night when a more competent team than Armenia would have rained in goals against a Scotland side who fell behind after six minutes to a Vahan Bichakhchyan strike and looked vulnerable on almost every attack in the opening 45 minutes.

But this Nations League contest was turned on its head courtesy of the excellent Stuart Armstrong, who scored twice either side of hot-headed Armenian defender Arman Hovhannisyan was red carded after headbutting John McGinn.

Further second half goals from McGinn and Che Adams saw the floodgates open at the right end of the park for the watching 900 Tartan Army foot soldiers before Kano Hovhannisyan was also sent off as bad-tempered Armenia finished with nine men.

This was ultimately a handsome win that will ease some of the pressure on Clarke after a demoralising 3-0 defeat to Ireland on Saturday, hot on the heels of a dispiriting 3-1 World Cup play-off semi final defeat to Ukraine.

But the debate will rightly continue about the Scotland manager sticking to his three-at-the-back formation; a system borne out of a need to fit in two world class left backs in Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney when neither were in Yerevan last night.

His two goals cancelled out Vahan Bichakhchyan's opener for Armenia in the sixth minute

His two goals cancelled out Vahan Bichakhchyan’s opener for Armenia in the sixth minute

Clarke had spoken 24 hours before this game of ‘one or two significant injury doubts’ and captain Robertson, John Souttar and Scott McKenna all did not make the journey to the Armenian capital with Tierney suffering with a longer term injury.

That saw Nathan Patterson, Greg Taylor, Billy Gilmour and Armstrong coming into the starting line-up.

Anthony Ralston and Ryan Christie dropped to the bench while McKenna and Robertson were the other two changes from the Dublin debacle at the Aviva Stadium.

Jack Hendry was moved to the left of the three. It is a position he played with Brugge in Belgium’s Jupiler League last season.

But Scotland again looked ill at ease in the formation throughout a worrying first half played in cooler temperatures than usual in sweating Yerevan due to an unseasonal afternoon downpour.

After the Armenian national anthem was accompanied by a stunning pyrotechnic display, which lit up the skies above Yerevan, the home side set about creating fireworks out on the pitch.

Joaquin Caparros’ side showed more attacking intent in the opening stages than they managed all night in a 2-0 defeat at Hampden last Wednesday.

Captain John McGinn scored one and assisted one as Scotland took second spot in Group B1

Captain John McGinn scored one and assisted one as Scotland took second spot in Group B1

Khoren Bayramyan was looking in the mood down the left flank but when the opening goal arrived on six minutes it came from a move down the right hand side.

Grant Hanley lost his physical battle with Tigray Barseghyan and he bore down on goal before slipping the ball into Bichakhchyan on the edge of the six yard box. Bichakhchyan made no mistake, turning home past Craig Gordon to make it a disastrous start for Scotland.

Clarke’s men looked to bounce back quickly and Gilmour saw a shot tipped over the bar by David Yurchenko.

And the equaliser arrived within eight minutes when Hendry lofted the ball up to Adams and he botched an attempt at an overhead kick.

The ball fell perfectly for Armstrong to steer home clinically from 12 yards.

But there was a let-off when Bayramyan got in behind the Scotland defence and shot straight at McTominay before firing a second effort past Gordon. Assistant linesman Vladan Todorovic put his flag up and after a VAR check the effort was ruled offside.

Both Arman (pictured) and Kamo Hovhannisyan were sent off for Armenia against Scotland

Both Arman (pictured) and Kamo Hovhannisyan were sent off for Armenia against Scotland

Then there was a timely intervention by Hendry to deny Bayramyan what looked a certain goal.

Scotland were living by the seat of their pants but Clarke and his men were handed a major advantage one minute before half time courtesy of a rush of blood to the head from Hovhannisyan.

The Armenia full back made an awful challenge on Patterson then squared up to John McGinn and went head to head with the Aston Villa man.

Referee Nikola Dabanovic from Montenegro showed two yellow cards but it could easily have been a straight red for Hovhannisyan .

And Armstrong made Armenia pay dearly just before the break when he controlled a pass from McGinn.

Despite falling to the turf, the Southampton forward steered a wonderful finish into the bottom right corner of Yurchenko’s net for a superb goal.

Scott McTominay and Scotland bounced back from their 3-0 defeat to Ireland on Saturday

Scott McTominay and Scotland bounced back from their 3-0 defeat to Ireland on Saturday

Scotland had been sprung out of jail and they looked far more assured after the break as they put this contest beyond Armenia with two further goals in eight minutes.

Captain for the night, McGinn marked the occasion by turning and sending a shot past Yurchenko after Patterson had teed up a cross from Taylor.

Clarke’s men were now on easy street and the night got even better when man of the match Armstrong fed Adams and his left foot strike found the far corner of the net.

Scotland’s strikers have been under pressure given their lack of goals and Adams looked the picture of relief after scoring his first international goal since the 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Denmark at Hampden in November.

With the game won, Clarke was able to turn to his bench and give minutes to Ralston, Lewis Ferguson, David Turnbull, Jacob Brown while Allan Campbell won his first cap.

But there was still time for some more dodgy Scotland defending with Gordon marking his 70th cap by making two fine saves from Barseghyan and a third from substitute Artur Serobyan.

Steve Clarke's troops now sit on six points in Group B1 level on points with leaders Ukraine

Steve Clarke’s troops now sit on six points in Group B1 level on points with leaders Ukraine

Armenia finished the match with nine men when substitute Hovhannisyan was shown a straight red card for a horrible challenge on Ferguson.

It was out of control and could have hurt the young Scottish midfielder and there were angry scenes between both players at full time while Armenian fans threw water bottles at referee Dabanovic and his fellow match officials as they made their way off at the end.

But the rapturous reception afforded the Scottish players by the Tartan Army at the end was in stark contrast with them being jeered off the pitch at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday following their dismal loss to Ireland.

It would be wrong to say everything in the garden is rosy again, given the defensive issues that cropped up in this emphatic victory.

But Clarke had succeeded in his aim of getting back to winning ways before the Nations League campaign concludes in September with home and away fixtures against Ukraine either side of the visit to Ireland at Hampden.



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