Scotland manager Gordon Strachan hailed Wednesday midfielder Barry Bannan’s performance in their comphrensive 5-1 victory over nine-man Malta.
Bannan, named in the PFA Championship Team of the Season last year, played the full 90 minutes at the Ta’Qali Stadium yesterday as the Scots kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign in style.
It was the 26-year-old’s 22nd international cap and his first start since March 2014.
Scotland were being held 1-1 at half-time against the minnows of Group F but ran-out comfortable winners thanks to a hat-trick by Robert Snodgrass and further second half goals by Chris Martin and Owls forward Steven Fletcher, who came on as a substitute.
Strachan took plenty of positives from their display, saying: “I thought Barry Bannan was excellent under pressure. Matt Ritchie excellent, Snodgrass just when the pressure was on. They were good. And Darren (Fletcher) as well, never flinched.”
Strachan handed competitive debuts to 21-year-old Callum Paterson and teenager Oliver Burke, fresh from his £13million move to Leipzig. Burke was a plus for Scotland in a tight first half with his ability to take players on.
“He did things that excite you and he pushes defenders back the way,” Strachan said. “But he’s only just turned 19 and I’m sure he’s glad he got his first competitive international cap out the way.”
Strachan also sprung a surprise in his selection by giving Martin the nod and the new Fulham striker converted Ritchie’s superb low cross to put Scotland 2-1 up eight minutes after the break.
Fletcher headed in his ninth Scotland goal after replacing Martin and Strachan has Leigh Griffiths to come back from injury for the double header against Lithuania and Slovakia next month.
Of Martin, Strachan said: “He scored a goal and could have had another couple. He tried to stick to what we tried to do.
“We didn’t get enough people close enough to him in the first half - in the first 20 minutes, even - but we sorted that.”