Rejuvenated Scotland fought and scraped their way to an eighth game unbeaten with a 1-0 Nations League win over the Czech Republic at Hampden Park.
Attacker Ryan Fraser drove the home side into the lead in the sixth minute and could have added a second but the slick-moving visitors dominated for large spells and missed a series of chances either side of the break.
Steve Clarke’s team were not much of an attacking threat after half-time – although substitute Oli McBurnie hit the bar late on – and it was backs-to-the-wall defending at times.
But the home side held out to keep them at the top of Group B2 with 10 points from four games.
It is Scotland’s longest unbeaten run since 1988 when Andy Roxburgh was in charge and it offered further encouragement ahead of the Euro 2020 play-off final in Serbia next month before concluding their Nations League group against Slovakia and Israel away.
But it was a nervy night for Clarke, who was missing Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie due to Covid-19 issues with skipper Andy Robertson suspended.
Midfielder John McGinn captained Scotland for the first time with Greg Taylor, Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor coming back into the side.
Czech Republic had to play a whole new team in the 2-1 home defeat by Scotland last month when their squad was sent away due to coronavirus protocols.
Most of their first-choice players had returned for the game but not head coach Jaroslav Silhavy who had tested positive for the virus with assistant Jiri Chytry in the technical area.
The visitors had an early opportunity.
Referee Felix Zwayer judged McGregor to have fouled Burnley striker Matej Vydra 25 yards from goal after about 12 seconds but keeper David Marshall saved Lukas Provod’s free-kick with some comfort.
However, the Scots were clinical with their first real opportunity.
After wing-back Stephen O’Donnell won the ball back high up the pitch, striker Lyndon Dykes stabbed a pass through to Fraser and the Newcastle player swept a drive past keeper Tomas Vaclik from 14 yards for his second goal in dark blue.
The Czechs remained calm and minutes later Vydra crept in between defenders Declan Gallagher and Andrew Considine to get his head to a Provod cross with Marshall again in the right place to gather.
Scotland were let off the hook in the 23rd minute when Vydra missed the target from close range after getting on the end of a Vladimir Coufal delivery.
Fraser came close to a second when flashing a drive from 25 yards just past the post then at the half-hour mark referee Zwayer ignored Czech calls for a penalty when Considine ran into Tomas Soucek at a corner.
Fraser should have hit the target at least when McGinn sent him clear with a perfectly-weighted defence-splitting pass but he cleared the bar with his drive from 18 yards.
Vydra passed up another opportunity four minutes after the break when his shot from a tight angle sped across goal and then Marshall had to block a header from Soucek following a corner.
The Czechs, unhappy with Dykes’ challenge on Coufal which saw him apparently leave a leg in to earn a booking which keeps him out of next month’s game against Slovakia, were getting closer.
Dykes was replaced by McBurnie in the 63rd minute before Kenny McLean took over from Fraser as Clarke looked for fresh impetus.
In between those two substitutions, though, McGinn brilliantly blocked a close-range shot from Alex Kral.
Hibernian defender Paul Hanlon replaced Taylor to make his debut while Callum Paterson took over from McGinn before Soucek somehow scooped the ball over the bar from six yards – another let-off for the home side.
McBurnie smacked the bar from 20 yards in a rare Scotland attack six minutes from time but the Czechs kept pushing and Marshall made a great save from Jan Boril in added time as the home side held on, grimly but successfully.
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