STEVE Clarke tonight hailed the fighting spirit of his Scotland players after they salvaged a draw in their opening Qatar 2022 qualifier against Austria at Hampden.

A spectacular overhead kick from John McGinn with five minutes remaining secured a hard-fought 2-2 scoreline and a point in the Group F fixture.  

Clarke, who admitted that he had feared McGinn’s stunning effort would be ruled out for offside, praised his charges’ never-say die attitude at the end of the 90 minutes. 

The national team fell behind to Sasa Kalajdzic goals twice in the second-half – but levelled against the second seeds in their section through Grant Hanley and then McGinn.

“I think the way the game panned out, going behind twice, we showed good character and quality to get back into it,” said Clarke. “We’ll take the point.  

“We’re progressing. We can believe in ourselves a bit more. When we conceded the first goal, we were on top. We had good control of the game and it was disappointing to lose the goal the way we did. 

“But again we showed good character to get back in the game - then we let ourselves down again. It was too easy to get a cross into the box, although it’s a good header from the boy.  

“But you can’t keep this team down. They want to keep fighting for their country.”

Clarke, who handed Southampton striker Che Adams his Scotland debut in the second-half, confessed that he thought the linesman would chalk off the late McGinn equaliser.

“It’s a John McGinn goal, isn’t it?” he said. “I thought he was offside, initially, but it was a good decision by the assistant and a great finish. We deserved a point at least.”

Clarke felt that Scotland should have been awarded a penalty when Ryan Christie was hauled down in the Austria area in the second-half when the visitors were leading 1-0.

However, he conceded that Kalajdzic had a perfectly good goal disallowed by erratic Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande as well after Kieran Tierney went to ground.

“It looked like a penalty to me,” he said. “If you wrap both hands around the player, it should be penalty.

“I got into enough trouble when I was a club manager talking about referees so I’m just going to pass on that one.

“But, yes, I thought it was a penalty. I’ve got to be honest. My immediate reaction was a penalty and seeing it back on video it was a penalty. When you wrap both arms around a player in the box then it should be a penalty.

“He did disallow a goal for them which was a little bit soft so we are not going to complain too much. They had a soft decision with their goal ruled out – although it was a push. We were looking for more points. But we take a point against good opposition.”

Scotland now take on Israel, who were beaten 2-0 at home by Group F top seeds Denmark last night, in Tel Aviv on Sunday and Clarke will be looking for an improvement at the back. 

“Israel is a tough game but we have to be confident of getting three points,” he said.  

"We’re disappointed by the way we lost the goals, so we can work on that defensively, eliminate the small mistakes.  

“But big Grant got his goal, we managed to get Che on the pitch, so there’s lots of positives tonight.”