Scotland manager Gordon Strachan needed a win to save his job and, when it counted most, his players finally delivered for him against Slovenia last night.
Scotland were excellent in the first half but, frustratingly, were unable to convert from a host of chances with Leigh Griffiths guilty of a horrendous miss 10 minutes before the break.
The likelihood of a Scottish victory looked to have faded when Griffiths was forced off with a back injury early into the second half with the Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak rarely troubled from then on.
But substitute Chris Martin, who had been booed onto the park by the Tartan Army, produced the only goal two minutes from time to earn Scotland a vital three points that breathes fresh life into the World Cup qualifying campaign.
The result will keep Strachan at the helm – at least until the next qualifier against England on June 10.
Strachan admitted prior to kick-off this was a “win or bust” scenario for his side with a draw or a defeat ruling out any realistic hope of Scotland ending a 20-year absence from a major tournament at Russia next year.
With his job on the line, Strachan had to get his team selection right with three particular problems areas – right back, central defence and up front.
Knowing this could be his final team as Scotland manager, Strachan named six Celtic players in his line-up, including debutant Stuart Armstrong, and made some surprising inclusions.
Ikechi Anya was expected to continue on the right side of defence after impressing against both England and Canada but that role instead went to Celtic’s 19-year-old Kieran Tierney, deployed on the opposite flank to his usual left back starting berth.
Blackburn Rovers’ Charlie Mulgrew got the nod to partner Russell Martin in defence, while Leigh Griffiths started in attack. Strachan had overlooked the Celtic forward, who had not started at club level since December, for the majority of his time in charge of the national team – even during his 40-goal season last term.
So for Strachan to turn to Griffiths in his hour of need was slightly perplexing but the Hoops forward was probably the man most of the Tartan Army had wanted to lead the line.
The rows of empty seats at Hampden were evidence of the recent apathy towards the national team but the hosts made a promising start and thought they had taken the lead in the seventh minute when Martin headed home a Robert Snodgrass corner but Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers disallowed the goal for a foul on Miral Samardzic.
Craig Gordon came to the rescue when Roman Bezjak beat the Scotland offside trap before Josip Illicic volleyed over as the visitors began to stretch Scotland’s makeshift defence.
But it was the home side that looked the more likely and West Brom’s James Morrison was inches away with a sweetly struck drive that rippled the side-netting.
Griffiths, who had not scored in his 11 previous appearances for his country, should have broken the deadlock 10 minutes before the break when a sublime Snodgrass centre fell perfectly for him only four yards out but he smashed the crossbar when a goal looked certain.
The Hoops attacker was denied by the woodwork for a second time a minute later when his right-footed shot came back off the post before a James Morrison header was cleared off the line as the Scots went into the break cursing their luck.
Scotland were forced into a change only four minutes into the second half when Griffiths, who was kneed in the back by Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak towards the end of the first period, limped off and was replaced by Steven Naismith.
That was a real blow for the home side as the Slovenian defenders were struggling to deal with the Celtic player’s constant movement.
Scotland weren’t quite as menacing as they had been in the first half, although they were still getting into promising positions but too often their final pass let them down.
With time running out, Scotland had to up the ante and Anya was brought on for Snodgrass to inject some pace to proceedings. The substitute almost made an immediate impact when the ball broke kindly for him 12 yards from goal but his weak effort was well held by Oblak.
Strachan made his final change eight minutes from time when Chris Martin came on for Morrison with the change met by boos from the Tartan Army.
But the move proved a masterstroke with Martin popping up with the winning goal two minutes from time.
Armstrong showed great awareness to thread the ball through to the Fulham forward who took a touch to steady himself before rolling beyond Oblak to spark scenes of jubilation inside a half-full Hampden.