Naismith spares Fletcher’s blushes to keep hopes of qualification alive

Steven Naismith threw Scotland a Euro 2012 lifeline by firing them to a crucial win over Lithuania in last night’s qualifier at Hampden.

Naismith claimed the only goal of the game after captain Darren Fletcher was denied from the penalty spot.

The Scots held on for the victory which sees them now sit two points behind Czech Republic with two games to go as both nations battle for a play-off spot.

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Former Leeds United loanee Barry Bannan declared it a job well done after collecting man-of-the-match honours on his competitive start for Scotland

Bannan’s cross enabled Naismith to make the breakthrough and he said: “It’s a marvellous feeling. This is my first competitive game and after playing in the friendlies to get out there and start at Hampden, it’s what dreams are made of.

“It’s a great result for us. We knew what it was going to be, a tough game, and we got what we came for.

“To get the three points is a big result and hopefully we can kick on from there.”

After controversy raged over a penalty awarded against Scotland and one not given to them in the draw against Czech Republic on Saturday, Fletcher got his chance from the spot last night but missed.

But Bannan said the players kept their heads up through the break.

“At times (you can stop believing) but you can’t have a spell like that or it won’t come,” he said. “You just have to keep going for it and to be fair ‘Naisy’ has got a great finish to get the breakthrough.

“On a good day it would have been three or four and plain sailing from there, but at 1-0 we’ve defended well and got what we came for.”

As well as the disappointment of being held to a 2-2 draw by the Czechs on Saturday, manager Craig Levein also had selection problems to contend with ahead of this match.

Kenny Miller and Scott Brown were both suspended, while Barry Robson and Charlie Adam missed out through injury.

The Scots carved out the first real chance when Bannan’s corner was nodded across goal by Phil Bardsley and fell for Christophe Berra at the back post only for the defender to rifle high and wide from close range.

The home side continued to push forward in search of the opener and David Goodwillie’s short pass was collected by Don Cowie but he was just off target with a well-struck shot.

Bannan then tried his luck from distance but his effort dipped well over the crossbar and never really troubled Zydrunas Karcemarskas in the Lithuania goal.

The Aston Villa midfielder attempted to turn provider with a long ball into the path of Naismith but his diving header was gathered by the goalkeeper.

Scotland looked more likely to open the scoring than their visitors and Fletcher tested Karcemarskas with a stinging shot at his near post, before Naismith nodded just over from the resulting corner kick.

Scotland should have opened the scoring a minute before half-time when Tadas Labukas handled Bannan’s free-kick in the box and referee Kristinn Jakobsson pointed to the spot before brandishing a yellow card.

Fletcher stepped up for the spot-kick but Karcemarskas guessed correctly and dived to his left to block.

However, Scotland went some way to making amends when they opened the scoring just four minutes after the restart.

Goodwillie’s pass picked out the impressive Bannan and he delivered a cross from the right for Naismith who connected with a half-volley which smacked off the inside of the post and in.

Lithuania had the chance to apply some pressure when they were handed a free-kick 25 yards out after Berra was judged to have handled but Ramunas Radavicius’s effort failed to make it past the wall as Scotland held firm. The referee could have awarded another penalty when Deividas Cesnauskis appeared to handle Goodwillie’s cross before Naismith had the chance to connect with the header.

Scotland next face a double-header against Liechtenstein and Spain, which will determine their fate in Group I.