International round-up: Norwich City captain Russell Martin returns to action with Scotland
PUBLISHED: 22:44 04 September 2016 | UPDATED: 22:54 04 September 2016
Two former Norwich City players were on target as Scotland got their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a flying start with a 5-1 victory in Malta.
Former Canaries winger Robert Snodgrass, now of Hull City, scored a hat-trick and Beccles-born Chris Martin, on loan at Fulham from Derby, scored and won a penalty.
Substitute striker Steven Fletcher was also on target as Gordon Strachan’s men gave the Scotland fans a much-needed boost after missing out on the European Championship finals, although Malta had a second man sent off in injury-time. Malta had quickly cancelled out a fortuitous early opener from Snodgrass when Alfred Effiong headed home but Scotland scored four times after the break – with Norwich captain Russell Martin playing the full match.
The defender has only played once for City so far this season following a back problem in pre-season, playing the full game in a 6-1 win over Coventry in the EFL Cup at Carrow Road late last month.
Snodgrass cut in from the right wing and hung a cross underneath the crossbar to give the Scots a 10th-minute lead.
Effiong equalised within four minutes but Scotland regained their lead in the 53rd minute, Chris Martin converting Ritchie’s low cross from eight yards.
Snodgrass was given the chance to bag his double from the spot as Jonathan Caruana was sent off for clipping Chris Martin’s heel as he was about to score.
The Hull player sent Hogg the wrong way to give Scotland a cushion in the 61st minute. Fletcher got on the end of Ritchie’s deflected cross to head home in the 78th minute and then teed up Snodgrass for his third late on, before Luke Gambin was also sent off for Malta.
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland took a point from their opening World Cup qualifier as Filip Novak’s stunning miss let Michael O’Neill’s side snatch a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic.
Two years on from a victory in Hungary which kick-started their run to the Euro 2016 finals, the feel-good buzz accrued from featuring in France this summer evaporated somewhat with a stalemate against the equally underwhelming Czechs.
Norwich City goalkeeper Michael McGovern played the full match and striker Kyle Lafferty played the opening 59 minutes before being replaced by Josh Magennis.
Boss O’Neill may be satisfied with a share of the spoils, a return they only got due to Novak’s mystifying second-half close-range blunder, but the manner of performance suggested there is plenty to do if they are to reach Russia in 2018.
The presence of world champions Germany in their group had both teams stressing before the match that their realistic aim was to snaffle the group’s play-off berth.
This Czech side have no Petr Cech or Tomas Rosicky, or players of equivalent quality, and the transition is not capturing their nation’s attention if the clusters of empty seats in Prague were anything to go by.
Former Slavia Prague boss Karel Jarolim, in his first competitive match as boss, may have instantly won over those in attendance at Sparta Prague’s ground had Pavel Kaderabek finished at the back post early on when left alone from Novak’s cross.
Norwich midfielder Alex Tettey played the full 90 minutes as Norway were beaten 3-0 in Oslo by world champions Germany in Group C.
Canaries team-mate Youssouf Mulumbu played the opening 83 minutes of a 4-1 win for Democratic Republic of Congo at home against Central African Republic, to seal qualification for next year’s African Cup of Nations.