EDINBURGH-BASED players defied Storm Abigail to score the goals which earned Scotland Under-21s a draw against Ukraine in Paisley. Hibs forward Jason Cummings claimed his first goal at international level, while Hearts full-back Callum Paterson scored Scotland’s second in an entertaining draw.
Tynecastle players Jack Hamilton, Jordan McGhee and Billy King also featured, as did their Easter Road counterparts Liam Henderson and John McGinn. In front of national coach Gordon Strachan, McGinn impressed in central midfield. Paterson and Cummings did their cause no harm either.
Goverla Uzhgorod striker Dmytro Khlyobas opened the scoring for Ukraine on 26 minutes but Scotland displayed resilience and character to overhaul the deficit and lead 2-1 at half-time. Oleksandr Svatok’s equaliser nine minutes from time was a hard one for the Scots to take and does serious damage to their European Championship qualifying hopes. Reading defender Dominic Hyam then received a late red card for denying Ukraine substitute Denys Bedborodko a certain winning goal.
Scotland were without Sam Nicholson due to a niggling injury and needed to win this qualifier to keep pace with group pace-setters France and Iceland. Given the Arctic-type winters in Ukraine, the torrid conditions were never likely to faze the visitors too much. Swirling gales and driving rain left the St Mirren Park surface slippery and sodden but Ukraine adapted quickly.
Their opening gambit was to attack and they forced Hamilton into a fine double save to deny Vladlen Yurchenko and Ihor Zurakhovskyi. Scotland really ought to have scored after quarter of an hour. First, King’s first-time shot from a ricocheted ball off Cummings was well saved by Bogdan Sarnavskyi. When the ball was cleared wide, Paterson’s cross found Henderson unmarked for a side-footed volley straight at the goalkeeper.
Scotland would have rued those chances after falling behind on 26 minutes. Hyam was dispossessed trying to be clever on the ball, and Ukraine sprung forward for Khlyobas to fire a shot past Hamilton from the edge of the penalty area.
The equaliser arrived within a matter of four minutes. McGinn’s free-kick deep into the penalty box was glanced home by Cummings for his maiden goal in a Scotland Under-21 shirt. He looked delighted, and would have been even more so after teeing up Callum Paterson to put the Scots 2-1 ahead. An extensive passing move involving Henderson, Andy Robertson and Barrie McKay ended with Cummings’ low cross being converted by the Hearts full-back from close range.
That goal helped Sbragia’s youngsters take control of proceedings and they finished the first half strongly, if still a little unsteady in defence. Paterson and Donald Love were replaced during the interval. In the case of the Hearts player, he had been booked in the first half and been penalised for fouling several times. Perhaps avoiding a red card was behind the decision to remove him.
Ukraine carved Scotland open early in the second half only to miss a glaring scoring opportunity. Substitute Valerii Luchkevych prodded a through ball for Khlyobas, who had sprinted in behind the home defence. His first-time effort was way off target, much to Hamilton’s relief.
Scotland endured their own moment of profligacy on 62 minutes. Cummings’ intelligent through ball found King bearing down on goal, but he unexpectedly opted to square the ball to Henderson. The Hibs midfielder spun to hit a left-footed shot but was off balance as he struck and the ball arced wide.
Ukraine attacked more as time wore on. Bedborodko poked his shot wide from a one-on-one with Hamilton before the visitors forced an equaliser. A corner was cleared for Eduard Sobol to drive the ball at goal from distance. His effort was blocked but Svatok duly slotted the loose ball high beyond Hamilton from six yards.
Cummings hit the junction between post and crossbar minutes later as the chance of a late winner evaporated for the young Scots. Bezborodko then missed a sitter, shooting wide when through on goal and no marker in attendance. He would have won the game for Ukraine instoppage-time after evading Hamilton, who came 35 yards out of his goal aiming to clear a through ball. Hyam hauled Bezborodko down and received a straight red card.
Sbragia remarked afterwards that his team could have won the game but also could have lost. The draw leaves Scotland with five points from four qualifying games, four behind second-placed France and six behind group leaders Iceland.
Scotland (4-2-3-1): Hamilton; Paterson (McFadzean 46), McGhee, Hyam, Robertson; Love (Slater 46), McGinn; King, Henderson, McKay (McBurnie 74); Cummings.
Unused subs: Fulton, Findlay, Souttar, Shankland.
Ukraine (4-2-3-1): Sarnavskyi; Danchenko, Duts, Svatok, Sobol; Myshnov, Zhurakhovskyi (Zinchenko 40); Kovalenko, Yurchenko, Bliznichenko (Luchkevych 46); Khlyobas (Bezborodko 71).
Unused subs: Bushchan, Burda, Bezborodko, Miroshnichenko, Filimonov, Luchkevych.
Referee: Nicolas Laforge (Belgium).