Scotland Under-21s lost 3-2 in injury-time in Austria last night as their European qualifying hopes ended with their first defeat of the campaign.
Johnny Russell had put Scotland ahead in the 74th minute after Tony Watt cancelled out an early opener but Billy Stark’s side could only hold on to their lead for 90 seconds. And Raphael Holzhauser scored on the counter-attack as Scotland sought a last-gasp winner at the Cashback Arena in Altach.
Scotland had gone into the game assured of second place behind Group 10 winners Holland but only the four best runners-up join the top teams in the play-offs for next summer’s finals in Israel and they had to throw caution to the wind as a draw would not have been enough.
Having lost Jordan Rhodes and James Forrest to the senior squad, and Gary Mackay-Steven to a knee injury, Stark was deprived of another attacking option when Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths pulled out through illness. But the in-form Watt came in after scoring off the bench at St Mirren Park with another Hibee, David Wotherspoon, returning from suspension to replace Rhys McCabe. Easter Road defender Paul Hanlon kept his place. Austria’s hopes had ended with defeat by the Netherlands on Friday but they started on the front foot with Michael Gregoritsch heading an eighth-minute opener. Scotland eventually drew level in the 54th minute as Russell leapt brilliantly to head on Danny Wilson’s long free-kick and Watt reacted quickly to head over the onrushing goalkeeper.
The Scots then had to survive a spell of pressure before stunning the hosts in the 74th minute when Watt got round his man on the left and drove the ball into the goalmouth. The Austrian goalkeeper fumbled and Russell bundled the ball over the line. But just like their 2-2 draw in Bulgaria in May, Scotland lost an instant equaliser. Ross Perry failed to deal with a cross from the left and the ball spun off his knee and fell for Aston Villa striker Andreas Weimann, who dived to head home from six yards. And Scotland’s hopes evaporated in stoppage time. Sub Gregg Wylde lost the ball on the left wing and Austria broke quickly to set up a two-against-two before Holzhauser ran into the box and fired into the far corner.
l Hearts Under-20s won 3-0 at Kilmarnock yesterday. with an own goal, a strike by Brad Mackay and a penalty by Billy King securing the points.