Hibs’ Glenn Middleton shines as Scotland Under-21s draw with Lithuania

Scotland Under-21s remain joint-top of their European Championship qualifying section after a goalless draw with Lithuania at Tynecastle Park. However, they could only lament the failure to secure top spot exclusively after dominating this tie.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 8:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th October 2019, 9:44 pm
Scotland Under-21 winger Glenn Middleton speeds past Emestas Stockunas of Lithuania. Pic: SNS

With Hibs loanee Glenn Middleton man of the match, the young Scots created several good scoring chances without converting any. Victory would have moved them two points clear of Greece at the top after their 1-1 draw with Czech Republic. Coach Scot Gemmill stayed positive despite leaving Edinburgh harbouring some understandable frustration.

“It was a game we expected,” he said. “The Lithuanians were always going to make it hard. I’m happy with the team in terms of being defensively sound, not getting caught on the counter-attack but pushing to break Lithuania down. Some of our football was really good, especially in the first half, but if you get chances you have to take them. Lithuania changed at half-time because we dominated the first half. They dropped deeper and were more compact.

“Seven points from nine with a lot of young players is good. It’s great development. Of course we are disappointed not to win but need to think of the bigger picture. The challenge for the players is to show they can still find a way to win but again it’s brilliant experience. We finished with Henderson, Gilmour and Kelly in midfield. That’s just what they need.”

Scotland now head to Czech Republic on Monday. “I think we can go to there with confidence. We won in Croatia so we can win in Czech Republic,” added Gemmill. “I take pride in clean sheets and the players are buying into that. We conceded in Croatia but they lads have the correct mentality. We need to rest and go and give it everything.”

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Gemmill stated pre-match concern that, historically, these are games Scotland fail to win when they need to at all ages. They beat San Marino at home and Croatia away in their opening two games in Group 4, so victory when hosting Lithuania was more than achievable. They had already lost in both Czech Republic and Greece.

The 5.15pm kick-off time did not help attracting a crowd to Tynecastle but a strong Scotland side began the match with purpose. Middleton and his Easter Road team-mate Ryan Porteous were in the starting line-up. The first clear chance fell to striker Fraser Hornby from George Johnston’s headed flick, but the Lithuanian goalkeeper Titas Krapikas blocked. Seconds later, Krapikas needed two attempts to touch Porteous’ header from a corner over his crossbar.

On 20 minutes, another fine opportunity arrived but Middleton scuffed his attempt into the Gorgie Road Stand after Hornby glanced on Johnston’s cross from the right. Scotland midfielder Allan Campbell collected Hornby’s headed knockdown minutes later, although his 18-yard attempt nestled in Krapikas’ arms.

Porteous then appealed for a penalty after being caught by the Lithuanian midfielder Karolis Uzela inside the visitors’ box. Polish referee Krzysztof Jakubik ignored the claims. It was clear the young Scots needed a breakthrough to reward their dominance. Krapikas thwarted them again when Middleton stung his palms with a vicious left-footed free-kick. Hornby then miskicked from five yards out when it seemed considerably easier to convert Middleton’s low cross.

Lithuania lacked creativity and did not cause their hosts many defensive worries. They seemed content as this tie remained goalless beyond the hour mark. With rain now torrential, play became more end-to-end and the final outcome less predictable. Scotland did not give up hope but the slippy surface was no help.

Into the final ten minutes and Middleton made progress down the right flank. Evading his opponent, he rolled his cutback into substitute Stephen Kelly’s path, however the Ayr United teenager’s side-footed attempt hit Krapikas before being cleared. That was the evening’s last genuine chance as the young Scots had to settle for a point.

Scotland U-21 (4-2-3-1): Doohan; Ross McCrorie, Porteous, Johnston, Harvie; Gilmour, Campbell (Henderson 87); Magennis (Kelly 64), Ferguson (McLennan 58), Middleton; Hornby. Unused subs: Robby McCrorie, Reading, Maguire, Smith, McIntyre.

Lithuania U-21 (4-4-2): Krapikas; Stockunas, Kloniunas, Uzela, Milasius; Sesplaukis, Antanavicius, Megelaitis, Jankauskas (Sirvys 89); Marazas, Dubickas. Unused subs: Siaulys, Lukosiunas, Levsin, Armalas, Kodz, Banevicius, Ramanauskas, Kruzikas.

Referee: Krzysztof Jakubik (Poland).

Attendance: 1,084.