Teenager Darren Fletcher came off the bench to fire Scotland into the Euro 2004 play-offs.
The Manchester United midfielder was the toast of the nation he chose ahead of
Ireland last year when he netted the only goal of the game against Lithuania.
His cool finish just five minutes after coming on was the highlight of an
otherwise dire performance from the Scots, who will appear in Monday's play-off
draw thanks to Germany's 3-0 defeat of Iceland, who would have finished second
had they won in Hamburg.
The Scots had been greeted like gladiators when they trotted on to the Hampden
pitch with fireworks and the Three Tenors belting out Flower of Scotland at
sonic boom levels.
But the first 45 minutes were an immense let down for the Tartan Army, who had
filled every seat at the national stadium for the first time in four years.
The Lithuanians had nothing to play for as they could finish no higher than
third in the group but showed they were big, strong and technically adept.
That was evident when they carved out the best chance of the first half by
far, a 36th-minute effort from Nerijus Barasa that required a reflex stop from
Robert Douglas to prevent it searing into the roof of the net.
Gary Naysmith had carelessly surrendered possession in his own half and when
the ball was switched to Edgaras Jankauskas on the left of the box, his lay-back
from the byline was perfect for his team-mate, who should have done better than
fire at Douglas with all the goal to aim at.
The Scots had created little to rival that despite a win being the minimum
requirement for the afternoon.
The closest they had come to opening up the Lithuanian defence had come from a
moment of magic near the left corner flag from James McFadden when the Everton
man beat two men simultaneously before teeing up Kenny Miller.
The Wolves striker let fly immediately from a good position on the edge of the
box but a defender was in the way to deflect the ball to safety.
The Scots' inability to create when it mattered may be evidence of a lack of
overall quality in a squad that has improved steadily but unspectacularly since
suffering the embarrassment of a draw in the Faroe Islands 13 months ago.
But a flaw in their collective temperament was also blindingly obvious when
time after time the blue shirts lost their cool in the face of over-reaction
from their opponents.
April's game in Kaunas had been settled by a dodgy penalty conceded by Jackie
McNamara and Berti Vogts' pre-match labelling of the visitors as divers had not
gone unnoticed in the Baltic.
The home fans were incensed when, time after time, a yellow shirt would hit
the deck as if its wearer had been picked out by a sniper, with Barasa the chief
That added to the atmosphere but the fact that the home players also lost
their cool did nothing to help their cause.
McNamara went in late on Donatas Vencevicius and both players were booked by
exasperated referee Claude Colombo, who had already yellow-carded Naysmith for a
reckless challenge on Barasa.
An early second-half breakthrough almost came their way when a McFadden corner
found Stevie Crawford unmarked but his glancing header was hoofed off the line
by Deividas Cesnauskas, who had come on at half-time having played for the
under-21s the previous night.
A free-kick just outside the penalty area, which had been awarded for a pull
on Crawford's jersey, was perfect Ferguson territory but the midfielder fired
wastefully into the wall and Gavin Rae, who had started instead of Fletcher,
blazed the rebound over.
There was another let-off at the other end when Christian Dailly failed to
deal with a bouncing ball in the box that allowed Robertas Poskus a free header
which he planted into Douglas' arms.
The same player was booked for body-checking McFadden before Vogts made a
double change in the 65th minute by taking off Miller and Cameron and sending on
Fletcher and Don Hutchison, with the latter having been an emergency call-up
earlier in the week after an already-long injury list claimed another victim in
Fletcher has long been feted as the great hope for both Scottish football and
United and has now played first team games at Old Trafford in both the
Premiership and the Champions League.
This was only his second appearance for the senior national side, having had
half-an-hour in Norway in August, but he lived up to his thoroughbred reputation
in the 70th minute when he drilled home the all-important goal that everyone had
feared would never come.
The teenager had already made an impact by winning a corner with a run into
the box and when a Naysmith lay-back from the left was cleared only as far as
where he was lurking on the edge of the area his instinctive reaction was to
drill the ball low past the goalkeeper and Hampden erupted.
Hutchison might have wrapped things up eight minutes from time when Crawford,
following a superb Fletcher pass, had squared the ball across the box but he
could only poke over at full stretch five yards in front of goal.
Three minutes of added time were successfully negotiated to allow the Tartan
Army another sortie into European action.