Scotland boss Gordon Strachan hails mental strength in Malta

Scotland players applaud the Tartan Army at full-time
Strachan admitted his central defenders were "rusty" after missing out on regular game time at club level

Manager Gordon Strachan praised Scotland for averting "a crisis" by recovering from a nervous period to trounce nine-man Malta 5-1 in their opening World Cup qualifier.

Robert Snodgrass scored a hat-trick while Chris Martin and substitute Steven Fletcher were also on target as Malta unravelled in the second half.

"It's been a good night; stressful at one point," Strachan said.

"But it shows they can deal with a crisis and that was a crisis at 1-1."

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Robert Snodgrass: 'You've got to be ruthless at this level'

Such a comfortable win did not look likely at the interval, with Malta's Alfred Effiong heading in soon after a Snodgrass cross had deceived the home goalkeeper to give Scotland the lead on 10 minutes.

"We wanted to try to perform, obviously, but it was about winning," Strachan added.

"We started well, we were moving the ball around well, but we got too strung out after 20 minutes. They were too far away from each other.

"At 1-1, it becomes crunch time. It's not easy to play when it's like that.

"It went from everyone enjoying themselves to Scotland fans thinking 'I've seen this before' and Malta fans thinking 'this could be the night'.

"Thankfully, the players laid that to rest. In the second half, their ability and their mental strength shone."

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
Strachan praised midfielder Barry Bannan for being "excellent under pressure"

Scotland benefited from a strange penalty award and red card when Jonathan Caruana was harshly sent off for a clip on Martin after another Malta defender had deflected a cross out of the Scotland striker's path.

The second dismissal came late in the game as Luke Gambin aimed an ugly swipe at man-of-the-match Snodgrass.

When asked about the penalty, Malta head coach Pietro Ghedin said: "The referee was a bit heavy against us.

"First half, we played really well, but second half Scotland pushed a lot and, under pressure, we lost concentration. We have to work more.

"Scotland pressed every minute. I'm not surprised. They have the spirit to play for 90 minutes and they played well."

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