Steven Fletcher scored his second Group D hat-trick against Gibraltar as Scotland concluded their failed 2016 Euro qualification campaign with an easy 6-0 win over the section minnows at the Estadio Algarve in Faro.
Gordon Strachan’s makeshift side – seven changes from the one which started in the 2-2 draw against Poland on Thursday night, which ended their hopes of reaching France next summer – took a two-goal lead into the interval after Chris Martin’s first international goal was followed by a wonderful Shaun Maloney strike.
Fletcher, who scored three in the 6-1 win over Gibraltar at Hampden in March, netted twice in four minutes after the break and then grabbed another with a fine 85th-minute finish before Steven Naismith, on for Martin, made it 6-0 in added time.
The Scotland manager’s contract is now up and he will reveal whether he will stay on in the post in the next week or so, but the Tartan Army inside the stadium certainly gave him their support during and after the game. A picture of the team and backroom staff taken on the pitch after the match.
Strachan, as promised, rang the changes.
From the starting XI against the Poles, only skipper Scott Brown, Alan Hutton, Matt Ritchie and Steven Fletcher survived.
Allan McGregor took over from David Marshall in goal, Gordon Greer and Christophe Berra came in as a centre-back pairing with Derby forward Martin starting in attack.
There were also starts for Andrew Robertson, Graham Dorrans and Maloney.
Gibraltar, UEFA’s newest member, had conceded 50 goals in nine previous losing qualifiers although their first competitive goal was scored by Lee Casciaro in the defeat at Hampden.
However, even a much-changed Scotland side were expected to win.
A huge travelling support – the vast majority in the crowd of 12,401 – were applauded by the players before the game and in turn the fans chanted in appreciation of Strachan.
Maloney and Fletcher came close for the Scots in an encouraging start which kept Gibraltar goalkeeper Jamie Robba busy.
In the 23rd minute Robba made a fantastic save from Maloney’s close-range header, pushing the ball past the post for a corner, but from the set-piece the Scots took the lead.
Greer’s looping header from Ritchie’s cross was going in but Martin made sure from on the line and it was something of a procession towards the Gibraltar goal thereafter.
In the 33rd minute, Gibraltar skipper Roy Chipolina cleared a Ritchie header off the line and then, from only a few yards out, Fletcher knocked Martin’s driven cross against the post, after good work by Brown.
But it was only a matter of time before the second arrived and it was a wonderful finish from Maloney in the 39th minute, curling the ball high past Robba from 16 yards, after another powerful run from Hutton into the box and along the byline had caused panic in the Gibraltar defence.
And it was the Aston Villa right-back who was instrumental in Scotland’s third goal, ending another burst forward by standing up a cross for Fletcher to power in a header past Robba.
The Scottish fans were enjoying the game, for all its irrelevance, and were cheering again four minutes later when the Sunderland striker steered in the second, his guided left-footed shot from 14 yards going in off the far post.
Before Johnny Russell and Darren Fletcher replaced Ritchie and Brown respectively, Gibraltar had a flurry of forays up the park but could not find that final pass.
Russell, making his competitive debut, flashed a shot over the bar and then set up Steven Fletcher with a good ball across the goal, only just evading the stretching striker.
Naismith replaced Martin in the 75th minute and blasted over the bar moments later, but even the Tartan Army had lost some of their enthusiasm by that point.
In the 83rd minute Robba made a save from Russell’s curling shot before Fletcher showed how it should be done with a drive from outside the box which beat Robba and crashed in off the bar, before Naismith made it six in injury time with a low drive.