NYON: There were victories for Scotland and Wales in Nations League action on Wednesday, although Northern Ireland were beaten in Norway.
Rejuvenated Scotland fought and scraped their way to an eighth game unbeaten with a 1-0 Nations League win over the Czech Republic at Hampden Park.
Attacker Ryan Fraser drove the home side into the lead in the sixth minute and could have added a second but the slick-moving visitors dominated for large spells and missed a series of chances either side of the break.
Steve Clarke’s team were not much of an attacking threat after half-time – although substitute Oli McBurnie hit the bar late on – and it was backs-to-the-wall defending at times.
But the home side held out to keep them at the top of Group B2 with 10 points from four games.
But it was a nervy night for Clarke, who was missing Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie due to Covid-19 issues with skipper Andy Robertson suspended.
Midfielder John McGinn captained Scotland for the first time with Greg Taylor, Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor coming back into the side.
Czech Republic had to play a whole new team in the 2-1 home defeat by Scotland last month when their squad was sent away due to coronavirus protocols.
Most of their first-choice players had returned for the game but not head coach Jaroslav Silhavy who had tested positive for the virus with assistant Jiri Chytry in the technical area.
Jonny Williams’ first international goal gave Wales a 1-0 Nations League win over Bulgaria in Sofia.
Wales went back to the top of Group B4 with 10 points from four games after Finland had moved onto nine earlier with a 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland.
It was a familiar sinking feeling for Bulgaria, who lost in Cardiff last month when Neco Williams struck in stoppage time, heading home namesake Jonny Williams’ cross.
Wales also had the satisfaction of keeping a sixth consecutive clean sheet in competitive football.
In fact, it is now 621 minutes of football since Croatia striker Nikola Vlasic was the last player to score a competitive goal against Wales.
Northern Ireland’s Nations League frustrations continued as a Stuart Dallas own goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat to Norway in Oslo.
A Northern Ireland side featuring 10 changes from that beaten by Austria on Sunday battled hard and created several chances in the first half, but were undone in cruel fashion as Martin Odegaard’s 67th minute corner span off the arm of substitute Dallas to find the corner of the net.
With focus already firmly on next month’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final against Slovakia, that was arguably more important than the result here and there were positive signs from the likes of Daniel Ballard, Tom Flanagan and Michael Smith.
While Northern Ireland were beating Bosnia and Herzegovina on penalties in their qualifying play-off semi-final last week, Norway saw their own hopes ended by a disappointing home defeat to Serbia.