Good evening all. With the Republic of Ireland having used up the planet's entire reserves of good luck in their heroically jammy stalemate with Russia in Moscow this afternoon, the future looks fairly bleak for a Scotland side that is third in Group I with just five points from five matches and already relying on other teams doing them favours to keep alive their faint hopes of overtaking the Czech Republic and nabbing second place behind runaway leaders Spain.
Tonight's match is as "must-win" as it gets for the Scots, whose cause won't be helped by the absence of Kenny Miller, Scott Brown and Charlie Adam, who miss out through injury or suspension. Their absence means that Don Cowie, Barry Bannan and David Goodwillie step up to make their first competitive starts for their country. Steven Whittaker, who was suspended for Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic, lines up in place of Alan Hutton, who has failed to recover from a groin strain.
Lithuania come in to tonight's game on the back of some strange results in this qualifying campaign, having drawn at home to Scotland, beaten the Czech Republic away, lost twice to Spain and taken just one point from two matches against the minnows of Liechtenstein. Not being as au fait with the niceties of Lithuanian or Scottish top flight football as I perhaps should be, I was fully expecting their team to be loaded with players from Hearts, whose owner Vladimir Romanov is a big noise in Lithuania. However, a glance at the likely starting eleven reveals that only two Hearts players, Marius Zaliukas and Arvydas Novikovas are expected to line up for the visitors this evening. Here's hoping Lithuania goalkeeper Zydrunas Karcemarksas has a quiet night, because he's currently vying with Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny for the goalkeeping berth in my Hideously Difficult To Spell And Type XI.
Scotland: McGregor, Whittaker, Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley, Bannan, Morrison, Cowie, Fletcher, Naismith, Goodwillie.
Subs: Gilks, Crainey, Hutton, Hanley, Dorrans, Snodgrass, Forrest.
Lithuania: Karcemarskas, Deividas Cesnauskis, Kijanskas,
Zaliukas, Klimavicius, Radavicius, Labukas, Semberas, Pilibaitis, Mikoliunas, Sernas.
Subs: Setkus, Panka Danilevicius, Papsys, Ivaskevicius, Novikovas, Beniusis.
Referee: Kristinn Jakobsson (Iceland)
Interesting fact: Scotland are ranked 55th in the world, Lithuania are 56th. This is Lithuania's fourth visit to Scotland, a country in which they've yet to avoid defeat.
Not long now: Click-clack! Click-clack! Click-clack! The teams emerge from the tunnel at Hampden Park, with Scotland's players wearing their usual home duds of blue shirts, white shorts and red socks. Lithuania's players wear yellow shirts, green shorts and yellow socks. Both teams line up for the national anthems.
How they'll line up: We can probably expect Scotland to field Darren Fletcher as a screen in front of the back four, with Steven Naismith and Barry Bannan operating on the left and right of central midfielders Don Cowie and James Morrison, with David Goodwillie ploughing a lone furrow up front. Lithuania will play a 4-5-1with Ramunas Radavicius and Saulius Mikoliunas playing on the left and right of a central midfield trio of Tadas Labukas, Deividas Semberas and Linas Pilibaitis. Darvydas Sernas is their lone hitman.
Game on: Lithuania kick off, playing from right to left.
1 min: Lithuania win the first throw-in of the game, just inside their own half, down by the dugouts. Hampden Park doesn't look full, but there's a decent crowd in and they're creating quite a racket.
3 min: Don Cowie sends a sweeping diagonal pass out to Barry Bannan on the right flank and the winger sends in a cross, which is cleared at the near post. Moments later, Bannan picks up the ball out by the corner flag and sends in another teasing cross that's just a smidge too high for Goodwillie. It's a lively start by Scotland.
4 min: From the halfway line, Darren Fletcher lumps the ball forward to David Goodwillie, who does well to control the ball on his chest, on the turn, despite the very close attention of his marker, before being crowded off the ball. That was a great first touch and the crowd weren't slow about showing their appreciation with a round of applause.
6 min: Phil Bardsley finds himself in space on the left flank down near the corner flag, tries to send in a cross with his left foot and misses the ball completely, allowing it to roll out for a goal-kick to Lithuania. Thge Sunderland full-back won't be putting that on his show-reel.
8 min: Barry Bannan tries to thread the ball through the Lithuania defence, but what looked like a promising through-ball is blocked by a defender before Goodwillie can run on to it. Scotland are doing very well here, ratcheting up the pressure on Lithuania, but need to be wary of throwing too many players forward and getting caught on the break.
11 min: Former Hearts player Deividas Cesnauskis goes on a surging run down the right flank and his gallop is sound-tracked by a chorus of pantomime booing from the stands.
12 min: Barry Bannan turns full-back Tasdas Kijanskas inside-out down by the corner flag and eschews the cross option in favour of a more intricate pass along the deck towards David Goodwillie at the near post. There's too much weight on the pass, which carries through to goalkeeper Karcemarskas.
15 min: Marius Zaliukas needlessly concedes a corner, which Barry Bannan sends in to the mixer. The ball is touched down by a Scottish head and Gary Caldwell blocks Phil Bardsley's marker, allowing the full-back a free run to the near post, here he miskicks a decent scoring opportunity and shanks the ball wide.
17 min: Don Cowie spurns the first clean scoring opportunity of the night, running on to a Goodwillie knockdown only to balloon the ball high over the bar. He will, as they say, be disappointed with that.
19 min: Free-kick for Scotland, in line with the edge of the penalty area on the left flank. Barry Bannan sends the ball towards the back post, where David Goodwillie had peeled off his marker. Unfortunately for the Blackburn Rovers striker, the cross was a little too deep and he was forced to over-stretch in his attempts to hook the ball back towards the scrum of bodies in the penalty area.
21 min: Barry Bannan cuts in from the right flank and tries his luck from long range. His left-footed effort curls high and wide of the top left-hand corner. It wasn't a bad effort, to be fair.
22 min: Play stops so Gary Caldwell can get treatment for a cut on his cheekbone, after an accidental clash of heads with Tadas Labukas as the pair contested a header.
24 min: After getting the cut on his cheek bone seen to, Caldwell is fit to continue and returns to the action with a nasty looking cut and accompanying swelling under his left eye.
25 min: With his back to goal while on the stretch, Marius Zaliukas does well to hook the ball out for a corner after Don Cowie sent a cross from the right in the general direction of David Goodwillie, who was lurking with menacing intent at the far post. Nothing comes from the ensuing corner.
28 min: "I'm sure you'll be delighted to learn that your hoped for Hearts/Lithuania connections weren't a million miles out," writes Nicol Hay, who I suspect may be about to save me a job. "Other than the two players you identified, Cesnauskis, Pilibaitis, Mikoliunas, Ivaskevicius and Beniusis all wore the maroon jersey. They were, respectively: decent; underwhelming; controversial-but-good-on-his-day; rubbish-but-scored-against-Rangers; and utterly dismal."
29 min: Incidentally, Saulius Mikoliunas (controversial-but-good-on-his-day) is getting booed every time he gets the ball, a consequence of him having - I think - taken a dive to win a penalty in a previous encounter between these two great nations.
31 min: Having seen David Goodwillie make a perfectly timed run down the inside left channel, Barry Bannan tries to pick out the striker with a weighted 30-yard pass along the floor. He puts too much welly on it, however and the ball beats a visibly annoyed Goodwillie to the byline.
34 min: Scotland win their fifth corner as my attention is drawn to the fact that I've been spelling Barry Bannan's name wrong throughout this report. Apologies to you readers and to Mr Bannan. Nothing comes from the corner, incidentally.
37 min: Bannan sends a chest-high pass through the middle into the space behind Tadas Kijanskas and Steven Naismith. The Scot wins the race to the ball, but his diving header doesn't trouble the goalkeeper.
38 min: Some of Barry Bannan's deliveries from the corner flag tonight have been exceptional and on this occasion, he whips the ball to the near post, where Naismith heads over the bar when he really should have scored. Scotland won the corner when Darren Fletcher forced a smart save out of Zydrunas Karcemarskas after cutting inside from the byline and sending a rising drive to the near post.
41 min: The camera cuts to Kenny Miller in the stand, where he is sitting alongside a very attractive brunette who's linking his arm and snuggled up on his shoulder. One hopes that's his wife or girlfriend, because if it isn't he might have some explaining to do.
42 min: A loose pass from Gary Caldwell to Don Cowie allows Lithuania to launch a counter-attack. Three of their players converge on the Scottish penalty area ... oh, hold on!
PENALTY FOR SCOTLAND! Tadas Labukas needlessly handles the ball while guarding the near post at a corner.
DARREN FLETCHER MISSES THE SPOT-KICK! By opening his body in the run-up, the Scotland captain signposted his intention to send the ball low and to the right in his run-up, allowing Karcemarskas to get down early and save well.
Half-time: Having dominated throughout, Scotland and Lithuania return to their dressing rooms for their half-time brew with the score all square. Scotland missed a penalty, but were also very lucky not to go a goal down just before they won the spot-kick. A loose pass from Gary Caldwell enabled Lithuania to break on a counter-attack in which there were three of them converging on Steven Whittaker and goalkeeper Allan McGregor. With two players to his right screaming for the pass, Deividas Semberas decided to go for glory and shot straight at the retreating Whittaker from the edge of the penalty area, when a pass outside would almost certainly have resulted in Lithuania taking the lead.
Second half: Scotland get the second half rolling, while Lithuania have made a change at half-time. Arvydas Novikovas of Hearts comes on in place of Tadas Labukas, whose rush of blood to the head gave Scotland the penalty they missed just before half-time.
47 min: Ramunas Radavicius does well to get a cross into the Scotland penalty area from the left, which Gary Caldwell heads clear. Moments later, Don Cowie concedes a free-kick a few yards outside of his own penalty area.
48 min: Oof, that was close! Arunas Klimavicius sends the free-kick curling towards the top right-hand corner and it flashes wide. McGregor was beaten all ends up.
GOAL! Scotland 1-0 Lithuania (Naismith 49) That's a splendid finish from Naismith, who scores on the half-volley after feeding the ball wide to Barry Bannan on the right of the penalty area, continuing his run and arriving just in time to poke the beautifully dinked return cross home from about seven yards out. Scotland are ahead and deservedly so. Lithuania had been showing signs of life either side of the break, so this setback might send them back into the torpor with which they began the game.
52 min: Gary Caldwell fouls Darvydas Sernas just outside the Scotland penalty area,m conceding a free-kick just a couple of feet to the right of the D. Novikovas tries his luck, but his effort is comically inept and goes high and wide, drawing hoots of derision from the crowd.
55 min: David Goodwillie loses the ball down by the corner flag on the left-hand side after being outnumbered, then concedes a free-kick with his efforts to win it back.
58 min: Steven Naismith turns the air around him blueafter a throw-in he thought should have gone Scotland's way is awarded to Lithuania. His goal seems to have knocked the stuffing out of Lithuania, as the match has entered the nearest we've had to a lull since kick-off.
60 min: Lithuania substitution: Tadas Danilevicius, who normally skippers Lithuania and was a surprise omission this evening, comes on. Consummate professional that I am, I missed who went off. Apologies.
62 min: With some neat, intricate passing, Scotland patiently try to work an opening down the right flank, until Barry Bannan tries to adopt a different tack and sends a long crossfield ball towards Phil Bardsley on the left flank. His attempted cross is cleared. Moments later, Bardsley is fouled by Deivedas Semberas, who gets booked for his troubles. He'll miss Lithuania's next match, against the Czech Republic, through suspension.
65 min: David Goodwillie shakes off two defenders and cuts in from the right before attempting to nutmeg Marius Zaliukas on the edge of the six-yard box. The centre-half isn't an obliging stooge and the ball ricochets off his shins and goes out for a corner, from which Scotland fail to benefit.
68 min: Lithuania win a free-kick about 35 yards out, which Ramunas Radavicius takes. His effort is fired straight into the wall and Scotland clear as assorted Lithuanian players, including Radavicius, appeal for a penalty for hand-ball.
69 min: Scotland substitution: Stephen Crainey on, Phil Bardsley off.
70 min: Just 20 minutes to go and the feeling persists that Scotland could really do with a second goal to kill this match off. Lithuania are a very poor side, but Scotland are only ever one bad refereeing decision or catastrophic bit of defending away from their latest football disaster.
72 min: Steven Naismith goes close, heading over at the near post after getting too much purchase on what needed to be a glancing header after getting on the end of a good cross from the left. He also had what looked like a half-decent penalty shout turned down after heading the ball against the outstretched arm of a Lithuanian defender.
74 min: Darvydas Sernas misses a great opportunity to bring Lithuania level, stealing between Gary Caldwell and Christophe Berra to meet a cross from the left and send a glancing header flashing wide of the right upright. If he'd made better contact he'd almost certainly have scored.
77 min: Lithuania substitution: Former Hearts player Ricardas "Beniuseless" Beniusis on, Saulius Mikoliunas off.
78 min: Scotland substitution: James Morrison off, Graham Dorrans on for his seventh Scottish cap.
79 min: On the touchline, Scotland manager Craig Levein is telling his players to play a higher line and stop defending too deep. It's hammering down with rain in Hampden Park, incidentally, but that's hardly a surprise in Scotland.
82 min: Graham Dorrans gets booked for a late lunge, then a few moments later Barry Bannan sends another marvellous free-kick into the Lithuania penalty area from deep. The ball drops into the corridor of uncertainty between goalkeeper and defenders, but despite the presence of Gary Caldwell and another Scot, they're unable to take advantage.
85 min: Having failed to kill off a game they've dominated throughout,. Scotland almost concede a late equaliser. With Allan McGregor caught in no man's land after flapping at a cross, Noivikovas sends a looping header goalwards. Luckily for McGregor, he manages to back-pedal furiously enough to catch the ball before it crosses the line.
86 min: Scotland substitution: Barry Bannan off after a fine performance, Robert Snodgrass on.
88 min: As the clock ticks down, Scotland are looking increasingly nervy and remain on the back foot. They really shouldn't be in this position, as they've been vastly superior to their eastern European opponents throughout.
89 min: Ramunas Radvicius splits the Scottish defence with a through-ball to Tadas Danilevicius, but Allan McGregor is quick off his line to get down and smother the ball. There'll be three minutes of squeaky-bum time.
90+1 min: Lithuania get the ball into the Scotland penalty area from the right hand side and a defensive header drops kindly for Linas Pilibaitus about 12 yards from goal. He takes a wild swing in an attempt to score with a volley, but barely makes contact with the ball. If he'd put his foot through it he could have left Scotland in all sorts of bother.
90+3 min: Scotland win a throw-in on the halfway line as the whistles ring out around Hampden Park. The referee takes the hint and draws proceedings to a close, meaning Scotland take the points after a win that was less than convincing. Scotland were by far the better team, but weren't clinical enough. They should have put this match to bed long ago, rather than ending up in a position where they were hanging on for dear life in the closing minutes. With Spain running away with Group I, Scotland are now two points behind the Czech Republic in the race for second place. Nabbing that runners-up spot is a very long shot, but the dream of qualification for Euro 2012 is still alive.