Pictures: Uche Nwofor strikes late to salvage draw for Nigeria against Scotland
Scotland’s resurgence under Gordon Strachan continued with a strong performance at Craven Cottage but a late equaliser denied them victory against World Cup-bound Nigeria.
An own goal from Nigeria defender Azubuike Egwuekwe looked set to split the teams and extend Scotland’s record to five wins in six after a very encouraging display.
But substitute Uche Nwofor showed good composure as the clock ticked over into stoppage time to sneak the ball past Allan McGregor at the near post and earn the Super Eagles a scarcely deserved 2-2 share of the spoils.
Equaliser: Nigeria’s Uche Nwofor levels the score late in the match at Craven Cottage
Celebrations: Nigeria players applaud the crowd in south west London following their late goal
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Robertson (Forsyth 77), Brown (c), Hanley, Greer, Morrison (Boyd 62), Mulgrew, Maloney, Naismith (Martin 46), Anya (Whittaker 83)
Substitutes not used: Marshall, Burke, Bannan, Berra, Griffiths, Bryson, Gilks (GK), McCormack, Pawlett, Reynolds
Scorers: Mulgrew 8; Egwuekwe own goal 54
Nigeria: Ejide, Odunlami (Ambrose 74), Egwuekwe, Yobo (c), Echiejile, Obi (Igiebor 53), Uzoenyi (Moses 61), Gabriel, Babatunde (Oduamadi 66), Uchebo (Odemwingie 54), Ameobi (Nwofor 61)
Substitutes not used: Oshaniwa, Oboabona, Agbim (GK), Azeez, Akpeyi (GK)
Scorers: Uchebo 41; Nwofor 89
Referee: Lee Probert
It resulted from lapses in concentration from the stumbling Gordon Greer and Grant Hanley, who had an eventful evening.
A flash of brilliant improvisation from Charlie Mulgrew had given Strachan’s men a ninth-minute lead, only for Michael Uchebo to equalise for Nigeria shortly before half-time.
Stephen Keshi fielded a second string side as he makes final deliberations of his 23 to take to Brazil and few of his fringe players put forward a convincing argument in a disjointed performance.
Instead the plaudits go to Scotland, who will enter an awkward-looking Euro 2016 qualification group containing Germany, Ireland and Poland in fairly good shape.
They took the lead when James Morrison’s low 20-yard shot was drilled directly to the boot of Mulgrew who casually angled his boot to loop the ball over goalkeeper Austin Ejide, who was woefully out of position.
Nigeria were unable to create meaningful chances for long periods of the first half but levelled on 41 minutes with a huge stoke of luck. Uchebo’s driving run at the heart of the Scottish defence resulted in a shot that deflected off Hanley and wrong-footed McGregor.
Scotland’s bad luck extended to disallowed goal in either half but fortune smiled when Egwuekwe turned the ball into his own net under pressure from Morrison after Alan Hutton had bombed down the right and crossed.
Despite the late equaliser, there are
many worrying aspects for Keshi address before Nigeria enter a World Cup
group with Argentina, Iran and Bosnia from which they are expected to
On tour: A Scottish fan enjoys the atmosphere in the ground before the kick off
Cover stars: Nigeria and Scotland meet at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ahead of the World Cup
This being his last chance to run the rule over his squad before European Championship qualification gets underway against Germany in September, Gordon Strachan selected a strong team.
He handed a first start to 20-year-old Dundee United defender Andrew Robertson as reward for a superb debut season in the top flight and preferred McGregor to David Marshall between the sticks.
Shaun Maloney, who had not featured since curling home a great free-kick in the win over Macedonia last September, made a welcome return.
Keshi has yet to whittle his provisional World Cup squad of 30 down to the final 23 and, accordingly, this was an experimental line-up to give fringe players a last chance to impress.
Scottish followers would recognise
Celtic’s Efe Ambrose, named on the bench, and perhaps midfield Reuben
Gabriel, who had an unproductive time at Kilmarnock before moving to
Waasland-Beveren in Belgium back in January.
Protest: A Nigeria supporter backs his team before the match following allegations of match fixing
All smiles: Scotland supporters begin to gather outside Craven Cottage in the early evening
Over 10,000 Tartan Army footsoldiers had converged by the banks of the Thames and they were soon in excellent voice as Scotland set the early rhythm.
Morrison’s long ball found Ikechi Anya in space wide on the left and the forward gave a taster of the uncomfortable evening he had planned for the Nigerian defence by driving forward and shooting across the face of goal.
Anya was determined to clip the wings of the Super Eagles and he frequently managed to get goal-side of Elderson Echiejile, proving himself Scotland’s most dangerous player.
Skipper Scott Brown was full of energy and endeavour too, but he nearly presented Nigeria with an opener when his loose ball across the defence was intercepted by Uchebo. His shot, after a free run at goal, was grasped by McGregor.
Hit and miss: Shola Ameobi of Nigeria blasts a free kick over the bar
Pulling the strings: Scotland manager Gordon Strachan looks on from the sidelines
Opener: Charlie Mulgrew of Scotland (7) celebrates with teamates after scoring the first goal
Instead it was Scotland who seized the advantage two minutes later through Mulgrew and the setback seemed to rattle Nigeria, who lacked cohesion going forward.
Newcastle’s Shola Ameobi saw a couple of chances go begging, the first a dreadful edge-of-the-box free-kick and the second a snapshot volley from an Ejike Uzoenyi cross that McGregor gathered.
In fact, Scotland were unfortunate not to go two to the good when Hanley headed in from a corner only for referee Lee Probert to adjudge, a little harshly, that he had fouled goalkeeper Ejide.
Replays showed that Ejide appeared to scoop the ball backwards into his own net under only the slightest pressure from Hanley.
Equaliser: Nigeria’s Michael Uchebo (right) levels the score at Craven Cottage
Jubilant: Uchebo (centre) celebrates his goal with team mates Azubuike Egwuekwe and Joseph Yobo (right)
That decision made Nigeria’s equaliser
four minutes before the break all the harder to stomach for Scotland but
they soon put it behind them as the second-half got underway.
The own goal from Egwuekwe restored their lead and there was very nearly a third when Maloney turned in an excellent right-wing cross from Hutton. This time a linesman’s flag cut short Scottish celebrations.
Nigeria were in desperate need of inspiration and they threw on Stoke’s Peter Odemwingie, playing his first international since February 2012 after finally healing his rift with Keshi, and Liverpool’s Victor Moses in quick succession.
They did get the goal they were after but could scarcely have left it later.
Tussle: Scotland’s Grant Hanley and Nigeria’s Shola Ameobi compete for the ball
Slip up: Nigeria’s Azubuike Egwuekwe (centre) scores an own goal early in the second half
Party starter: Scotland celebrate Egwuekwe’s own goal in the second half at Craven Cottage
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