Fraser Hornby’s hat-trick earned Scotland Under-21s a routine 3-0 victory over Andorra as they kept alive their hopes of qualifying for a European Championship play-off.
The 18-year-old Everton striker broke the deadlock at Tynecastle with a penalty late in the first half after Hibs defender Ryan Porteous had been fouled, and he completed his treble with a couple of clinical close-range finishes after the break.
The comfortable win lifted Scot Gemmill’s team up to 11 points in Group 4, within striking distance of the second-place Netherlands ahead of Tuesday’s crucial clash between the two nations in Doetinchem. Second place behind likely group winners England could be enough to earn a crack at a play-off for a place in next summer’s finals in Italy and San Marino.
Gemmill said: “The players showed real intelligence and application. A lot of people will look at it as standard procedure to beat Andorra like that but everything has to be executed correctly for that to happen. The players deserve a lot of credit.”
Hibs pair Porteous and Stevie Mallan both started, while their Easter Road colleague Oli Shaw, in the squad for the first time, was listed among the substitutes. The striker got on for a six-minute debut cameo at the end after Hornby had completed his treble. The only other player in the squad with notable connections to either Edinburgh club was former Hearts defender Liam Smith, now of Ayr United, who started at left-back.
The Scots, in need of a win to keep alive their slim qualification hopes, dominated possession from the outset and carved out the first half-chance of the match after five minutes when Celtic winger Michael Johnston surged impressively down the left flank and slipped a pass through to Hornby but the Everton striker’s angled shot from just inside the box was deflected behind for a corner that came to nothing.
Andorra goalkeeper Iker then had to act smartly in the 13th minute to stop team-mate Christian Garcia bundling the ball into his own net after Chris Cadden’s cross was flicked on by Hornby in the danger area. Hornby had a great chance to open the scoring eight minutes later when he was put through on goal following some excellent build-up play by Johnston wide on the left but the striker’s low angled attempt to find the far corner was blocked by the feet of Iker. From the resulting corner, taken by Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour, Porteous’s header was blocked by the goalkeeper.
Iker was called into action to deny another Hibs player in the 26th minute when he dived to his left to scramble Mallan’s 25-yard free-kick behind.
From the corner, Gilmour played it short to Johnston, who in turn set up Cadden but the Motherwell attacker’s low shot from eight yards out lacked the power to trouble Iker.
Dunfermline full-back Ryan Williamson then surged up the right-flank and fed Cadden whose inviting delivery across the face of goal found no takers.
Scotland were the dominant force in the opening half hour but lacked the cutting edge to make their superiority count. In 35 minutes, Hornby glanced a header high and wide from a Mallan free kick before the Hibs midfielder saw a ferocious half volley from 25 yards out deflected behind.
Just as the Scots looked set to go in frustrated at the interval, however, they got themselves in front after Porteous won a penalty a minute before the break. The Hibs defender was wrestled to the ground by Andorra defender Alex Martinez while trying to get on the end of a Gilmour corner, and Macedonian referee Dejan Jakimovski pointed to the spot. Hornby duly sent Iker the wrong way to give the Scots a deserved lead.
Andorra had offered little as an attacking threat in the first half but they did get into a promising position seven minutes after the break when Richard Fernandez looked like getting himself clear in the box. The chance was snuffed out, however, when Porteous slid in decisively to make a vital block tackle just as the striker was about to pull the trigger.
Hornby went close to doubling his tally in the 66th minute when he headed just wide from a Cadden delivery. But the striker made no mistake four minutes later when he met a Gilmour cross from the right at the near post and nodded clinically beyond Iker. Hornby completed his hat-trick with seven minutes left when he nipped in ahead of Iker to turn Cadden’s cross into the net from eight yards out. The hitman was given a standing ovation as he was replaced seconds later by Shaw.
Scotland U21: Fulton, Williamson, Bates, Porteous, Smith, Ross McCrorie, Mallan (Campbell 73), Gilmour (Ferguson 77), Cadden, Hornby (Shaw 84), Johnston. Unused subs: Robby McCrorie, McIntyre, Ross, Magennis.
Andorra U21: Iker, De Pablos, Bove (Pijuan 74), Garcia, Martinez (Vales 85), Reyes (Del Castillo 82), Fernandez, Nazzaro, Samper, Viladot, Pomares. Unused subs: Pires, Cabanes, Sanchez, Guillen.
Referee: Dejan Jakimovski (Macedonia).