Scotland’s stunning 3-0 defeat of Ukraine leaves Steve Clarke’s side top of the group and firmly in control of their destiny.
A win or draw against Ireland in Glasgow on Saturday would leave them in a position where a draw in their final game away to Ukraine would clinch top spot.
It also means that if Ukraine avoid defeat in Armenia earlier in the day – a game they will be expected to win – Ireland will enter Saturday’s match knowing that their hopes of a top-two finish remain intact. A win is essential to keep.
Taking the glass half-full from an Irish perspective is that if Stephen Kenny’s side win in Scotland and back it up at home to Armenia next Tuesday, top spot is possible if Ukraine drop points in Yerevan and then finish their own. Draws with the Scots in the game. .
This is because the head to head rules are used as tiebreakers and, in this case, Ireland and Scotland would be joint top with 10 points.
It was super substitute Lyndon Dykes who scored a late double as Scotland moved impressively to the top of the table.
After a goalless first half, striker Chey Adams and midfielder Stuart Armstrong missed good chances, before captain John McGinn drove in in the 70th minute and Dykes twice headed in from teammate Ryan Fraser’s corner to boost morale. For a rousing victory.
The Scots were well beaten by Ukraine in the semi-final play-off of the 2022 World Cup in June but this time they had Oleksandr Petrakov’s side.
With captain Andy Robertson out injured, Clarke was delighted to have Kieran Tierney fit again for his first Scotland appearance since March.
There were two more changes from the 4-1 win over Armenia in their last match with midfielder Ryan Christie and defender Scott McKenna returning to the squad.
With some pre-game booing in memory of the Queen, Patron of the Scottish Football Association, a confident and fast Ukraine side stretched the home defense with a series of balls before opening the match in a threatening fashion.
However, in the 11th minute Scotland’s lone striker Adams had a shot on goal from 16 yards that was saved by goalkeeper Anatoly Trubin, although according to replays, the offside flag had been mistakenly raised.
Then a Christie cut-back from the left found no takers but it did at least inject some life into the tartan army.
The home side seemed settled. McGinn and Christie both had efforts over the bar before Trubin shot from Armstrong but Christie couldn’t grab the rebound.
There was a blow for the Scots in the 25th minute when Nathan Patterson, suffering from a knee injury, was replaced by Aaron Hickey of Brentford.
The Everton right-back was carried off on a stretcher, with Ukraine coach Petrakov on his way to offer assistance.
A brutal ‘last man’ bodycheck by Valerie Bondar on Adams just before the break earned the defender only a yellow card from referee Maurizio Mariani, angering the Scotland supporters.
Bonder was pushed every time he touched the ball after the break but there was little more to do for the Tartan Army until the 57th minute, when a powerful Armstrong from a Tierney cut-back tested Trubin.
The Southampton midfielder then got on the back-heel of Scott McTominay and blasted his shot over the bar.
Adams then missed two great chances, heading a McGinn cross against the crossbar before Trubin blocked a header from another delivery from the Aston Villa captain.
In the 68th minute Armstrong directed a header from Adams across the post from eight yards and when frustration threatened to mount, McGinn took charge.
As a loose ball came to him on the edge of the Ukraine penalty area, the former Hibernian midfielder used his strength to control the ball and drill it down into the far corner.
Adams and Armstrong were replaced by Fraser and Dykes, before Trubin had to cross his goal to tip a Tierney shot wide.
The two substitutes then combined for Scotland’s second, leading Dykes from Fraser’s corner on the left.
And with four minutes remaining, Dykes sensationally headed over again from another Fraser corner to secure three valuable points.