STEVIE MAY transferred his rampant club form onto the international stage last night with a stirring performance and a goal in Scotland Under-21s’ 2-1 win over Slovakia.
The St Johnstone forward was the standout from a fine Scottish display which maintains the challenge in their European Under-21 Championship qualifying group.
In front of Gordon Strachan and the full national team, Scotland overwhelmed Slovakia to surge into a two-goal half-time lead in Paisley. May scored, had another effort cleared off the goal line and hit the crossbar in the second half. He has seven goals from 13 appearances for St Johnstone this season and will be high on confidence for Scotland Under-21s’ trip to Georgia on Monday.
“Stevie’s been with us in the last couple of games and came on as a sub. Last night he got his opportunity and he grabbed it,” said the Scotland Under-21 coach Billy Stark. “He worked his tail off. There were some top performances but, more importantly, a real togetherness.
“The players have had a wee bit of criticism, which was absolutely on the money in terms of the England game [Scotland lost 6-0]. We drew a lot from the Holland game despite losing 4-0. They won 6-0 in Georgia yesterday and they’re group favourites. We had something to prove and that’s a good situation to be in when you’ve got boys that want to prove they have quality. We had lost some goals but we had young centre-backs last night and almost half of our squad are eligible for the campaign after this one, so you’ve got to be delighted.”
Those central defenders were 17-year-old Hearts player Jordan McGhee and 18-year-old Stuart Findlay of Celtic. Both were assured, composed and brave throughout the evening. Stark’s only complaint was that Scotland did not convert more chances and had to withstand some concerted pressure from the Slovakians after leading 2-0 at half-time. “It was nervier than it should’ve been because we created some marvellous opportunities to put the game to bed,” he said. “Late in the game we were under the cosh a wee bit, but showed we are a good side and created many opportunities against a good side.”
Scotland’s early superiority brought the opening goal on the half-hour. Findlay meandered forward to feed left-back Clark Robertson. His cutback was left by May and Dundee United’s Stuart Armstrong arrived to plant the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot from around 16 yards. Six minutes later, May powered into the box and lashed the ball high into the net with his left foot. His first Scotland Under-21 goal granted his team a comfortable two-goal cushion.
May almost secured a third goal when he rounded the goalkeeper, only for defender Branislav Nidaj to clear off the goal line. Then, from McGeouch’s ball into the penalty box on 55 minutes, May’s glancing header clipped the crossbar. Slovakia were generally more assertive after the interval and McGhee had to throw his body in front of a goalbound Jakub Vojtus effort to preserve Scotland’s clean sheet at that stage.
The Slovakians were not deterred for long. In the 69th minute, Jaroslav Mihalik crossed for fellow substitute Thomas Malec to prod home from point-blank range. That put a different complexion on the match as Slovakia grew in confidence. Fraser Fyvie cleared one effort off the line following a corner. Jason Holt came off the bench eight minutes from the end, with his Tynecastle colleague Callum Paterson following five minutes later. They helped inject some fresh energy and Scotland held on for a victory which propels them to joint second alongside Slovakia in their qualifying section for the 2015 European Under-21 Championship.
• Scotland (4-2-3-1): Archer; Jack, McGhee, Findlay, C Robertson; Fyvie (A Robertson 76), Macleod (Holt 82); McGregor (Paterson 87), Armstrong, McGeouch; May. Subs: Kettings, Kerr, Herron, Beck.