Scotland were unable to deliver Steve Clarke a second home win in charge after letting a lead slip in a 2-1 defeat to Russia.
John McGinn’s first international goal, coming after 10 minutes, had given Scotland the lead. However, after growing pressure throughout the half, Russia levelled five minutes before the break through captain Artem Dzyuba.
The away side deservedly went in front in the second half through Yuri Zhirkov and despite a late rally, Scotland were unable to claw back the deficit. Defeat leaves them six points behind Russia in Group I, with Belgium next up at Hampden Park on Monday.
Liam Cooper was handed his Scotland debut, while Oli McBurnie made his first start under Steve Clarke.
John McGinn, starting alongside Scott McTominay and Callum McGregor in the centre of the park, had the first chance of the game, dragging wide from just outside the box. Russia responded in kind, with veteran winger Yuri Zhirkov hooking on to the roof of the net.
Scotland got the start they were looking for and it came through McGinn. Ryan Fraser checked back onto his right foot and delivered a cross which Guilherme, the Russian goalkeeper, bobbled under pressure from McBurnie. Aston Villa’s McGinn pounced from six yards for his first international goal.
It was a lead Scotland deserved through their early efforts. Russia, as expected, targeted Dzyuba up against Charlie Mulgrew, and the visiting skipper got the better of his man to meet Magomed Ozdoev’s lofted cross to head goalwards. Fortunately for the home side, David Marshall was there to tip over.
Everything went through Dzyuba going forward, be it getting on the end of crosses or bringing down diagonal balls to link up with other white shirts. Russia’s narrow attack allowed Zhirkov to get closer to him, with Aleksandr Golovin lurking menacingly in the space behind.
The home side had retreated into a defensive shape after the goal and Russia had by and large failed to play through them. The equaliser came through some misfortune, with Andy Robertson’s interception off Golovin’s toes rebounding straight to Dzyuba, who found the net.
Russia came out keen to build on their momentum. Golovin had one goal-bound shot blocked by Charlie Mulgrew and, after fashioning space for himself, dipped another effort just over the bar. When Cooper threw himself in front of Mario Fernandes’ shot, the tide of the game was going very much against the Scots.
Zhirkov was the man to deliver the second goal for Russia, bundling in at the far post on 59 minutes from Golovin’s well-directed cross.
Fernandes and Ozdoev hit the frame of the goal in the space of a few minutes, with Scotland now looking like a side on the ropes.
The introduction of Kenny McLean and particularly Ryan Christie had a positive impact on Scotland, with a backheel by the ex-Caley Thistle man teeing up a Fraser break with a clever backheel. When he was felled by Fedor Kudryashov on the edge of the box, Charlie Mulgrew’s free-kick had Guilherme worried before drifting wide.
Mulgrew was required to clear Aleksandr Erokhin’s shot off the line and while Scotland rallied late, they were unable to grab the equaliser.