Alex McLeish got his second spell in charge of Scotland up and running as Matt Phillips’ first international goal claimed a hard-earned 1-0 friendly victory over Hungary.
Appointed in the wake of Gordon Strachan’s dismissal following Scotland’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, McLeish got off to a poor start at Hampden Park on Friday, losing 1-0 to Costa Rica.
But after a shaky opening at the Groupama Arena on Tuesday, and in spite of Charlie Mulgrew’s penalty miss, Scotland responded with a confident second-half display to secure their first win over Hungary since 1987.
It was West Brom forward Phillips – deployed as the central striker in a 3-4-3 system – who netted the first goal of McLeish’s tenure 48 minutes in, prodding home from close range after fine work from the excellent Ryan Fraser.
Phillips’ goal came on the back of a poor penalty from Mulgrew, who saw a tame attempt saved by Peter Gulacsi towards the end of a first-half Hungary had dominated for the most part.
Mulgrew’s blushes were to be spared though as Scotland, with goalkeeper Allan McGregor in fine form, held firm to seal a morale-boosting triumph.
Jack Hendry came into Scotland’s line-up as one of seven changes, and the debutant would have been at fault for an early goal had McGregor not kept out Balazs Dzsudzsak’s strike.
Hendry’s Celtic club-mate James Forrest should have done better at the other end soon after – the winger striking wide after latching on to a loose ball on the edge of the area.
Forrest’s chance proved a rare opportunity for Scotland as they struggled to adapt to a back three, and McGregor would be called into action again on the 20-minute mark, leaping high to his left to tip Dzsudzsak’s dipping free-kick over.
However, despite Hungary’s early promise, it looked like Scotland would get the breakthrough when referee Harald Lechner pointed to the spot following Laszlo Kleinheisler’s clumsy challenge on Fraser.
Gulacsi was not to be beaten, though, as the RB Leipzig goalkeeper stooped down to parry away Mulgrew’s effort.
Richard Guzmics could have made Scotland pay for Mulgrew’s miss on the stroke of half-time, but Andrew Robertson was well-placed to clear off the line.
Scotland wasted no time in taking the advantage after the restart, though.
Fraser was the architect with a brilliant low cross from the right that fell kindly to Phillips, who made no mistake with a composed first-time finish.
Hungary responded well – McGregor once more at his best to ensure Roland Varga’s strike did not find the target.
Varga went close again moments later, with McGregor unable to reach the forward’s powerful free-kick, which whistled just wide.
Adam Szalai had two golden chances as Hungary rallied, but McGregor was on hand to keep the hosts at bay and ensure Scotland held on for the win.
Key Opta stats:
– This was Scotland first victory in six friendlies since beating Denmark 1-0 in March 2016 (D1 L4).
– Eight of Scotland’s last 10 friendlies have ended in a 1-0 scoreline, with the Tartan Army winning five and losing three in those instances.
– Alex McLeish has won three of his four friendlies as Scotland manager (L1); again all of these matches have seen just one goal scored.
– Hungary have lost five of their last eight home international games (W3), including each of their last two.