Lawrence Shankland’s stoppage-time equaliser rescued a point for Scotland as they kept their slim hopes of topping their Euro 2024 qualifying group alive with a late draw in Georgia.
With the Scots – who booked their spot in Germany last month – lacking attacking inspiration, the Hearts captain was thrown on and nodded in fellow substitute Stuart Armstrong’s cross with 92 minutes on clock in Tbilisi.
That dramatic equaliser, which prevents Steve Clarke losing a fourth consecutive game in his 50th match in charge, came after Khvicha Kvaratskhelia twice gave Georgia the lead.
The Napoli winger first met a low ball from Otar Kakabadze to slide in his 13th goal in 27 caps, then took that tally to 14 just before the hour when he cut in off the left and drilled low past Zander Clark, who was making his first start.
That strike came just eight minutes after free-scoring Scott McTominay netted his seventh goal of the qualifying campaign with a deflected second-half equaliser from the edge of the home box.
But that effort was one of the few opportunities the Scots had created until Shankland rose at the back post to net his second international goal.
To secure top spot in Group A, Scotland will need to beat Norway at Hampden in their final qualifier on Sunday (19:45 GMT) and hope Spain lose at home to the Georgians.
Travelling to Tbilisi – where Scotland’s Euro 2008 and 2016 bids were dealt infamous blows – relatively carefree was quite the luxury for Clarke and his players.
If you told any member of the Tartan Army that would be the case at the start of this campaign, they would have assumed their nation’s hopes were over with two games remaining.
But despite going four without a win, that conditioned pessimism continues to evaporate under this team, who again found a way to get a result in a game they were second best in for long spells.
Georgia, who had 13 wins from their last 20 games prior to Thursday, were always at arm’s length as Clark’s sharp first-half save from Levan Shengelia prevented the home side going two up.
But, McTominay’s fortuitous leveller aside, the issue for Scotland was they were struggling to create many clear-cut chances with their lion’s share of the ball, while anything they did create was being passed up.
Lyndon Dykes glanced Billy Gilmour’s free-kick wide in the first half before seeing another saved at the near post after the break.
The Queens Park Rangers striker was the man to make way for Shankland, who demonstrated the composure Dykes was lacking just seven minutes after coming on by planting in a header of his own in the dying stages.
With key defensive trio Aaron Hickey, Kieran Tierney and captain Andy Robertson out, along with first-choice goalkeeper Angus Gunn and striker Che Adams, this double-header has been viewed as an opportunity for Clarke’s bit-part players to stake a claim.
Assistant manager John Carver challenged Shankland to use his late call-up to grasp his chance and he needed just seven minutes to do that. The Hearts captain could now be in line for a start on Sunday against Norway.
As well as the first-half stop from Shengelia, Shankland’s club team-mate Clark was also sharp across his line to thwart the Georgian’s free-kick.
But the keeper will perhaps be disappointed with his role in Kvaratskhelia’s second, which was fiercely struck but appeared to go low under his dive.
Bologna’s Lewis Ferguson can be pleased with his second-half showing, which provided Scotland’s midfield with the energy to maintain territory in the home half.
Ferguson was a half-time substitute for Gilmour, who can perhaps feel hard done by. The Brighton man’s role in the team continues to come under threat, but he created the most chances (three) and completed the most passes (42) of any Scotland midfielder in the first half.
Sunday’s visit of Norway will perhaps provide a clearer picture of Clarke’s long-term thinking.
Scotland head coach Steve Clarke: “We came here with the intention of winning the game. You always say to your players, if you can’t win, then don’t lose. We showed good character.
“It wasn’t an off night, it was a difficult night against a good opponent. Georgia are probably the best pot four team and have one player up front who is exceptional.
“It is a night where we can do better, but to say it was an off night would be unfair to our players.”
Scotland striker Lawrence Shankland: “We were chasing the game, coming from behind twice. To get the equaliser was important and I’m just grateful to get that goal.
“It’s a difficult place to come, thankfully enough we’d already qualified from the group so it wasn’t pivotal. They’re a good team, with good individual players. Thankfully I was in there at the right moment.”
Scotland’s memorable qualifying campaign comes to an end at Hampden on Sunday when they host Norway.
All eyes will then be on the Euro 2024 draw, which takes place two weeks later on 2 December.