NOTHING with Scotland is ever straightforward is it?

The population of the country has been gripped by the sort of World Cup fever not seen since the heady days of Ally MacLeod since the exhilarating 3-2 win over Israel at Hampden on Saturday evening. 

With Steve Clarke’s men four points ahead of their nearest challengers with three games remaining in Group F, the Tartan Army were convinced that second spot, and a place in the play-offs next March, was assured.

They should have known far, far better. The national team narrowly avoided a humiliating and hugely costly draw against the Faroe Islands in Torshavn tonight. It took a goal from Lyndon Dykes with just four minutes of regulation time remaining to avert disaster.

Dykes became the first Scotland player to score in four consecutive matches since Colin Stein did so way back in 1969 when he netted in the 86th minute at Torsvollur.

He diverted the ball past Teitur Gestsson from a few yards out after Horour Ashkam had fired a Nathan Patterson cross onto his chest from close range. The striker deserves great credit for getting himself into such a good position at a crucial moment. But he knew little about what was happening.

There was also an excruciating wait while the video assistant referees looked over replays to check if the Queens Park Rangers man had handled in the build up to his strike. He hadn’t and that was verified by the modern technology. But it made for a nerve-shredding finale for supporters. 

Qualifiers against the Faroe Islands have proved problematic for this country to negotiate in the past and some embarrassing results have been suffered. They were held to draws in Toftir in both 1999 and 2002. For long spells last night it looked very much like they were going to make it a horror hat-trick.

Scotland are now four points ahead of Israel with two games to go and can clinch the runners-up place in their section if they beat Moldova in Chisinau next month. It is a fantastic position to be in. But they will have to perform an awful lot better than they did against the Faroes to achieve their objective.

They will not be helped by the fact that both Dykes, the Australia-born forward who is fast becoming a national hero, and Ryan Christie will both be suspended as a result of the bookings they picked up tonight.

Clarke made three changes to the team he fielded at the weekend. Two of them were expected, one was something of a surprise. Grant Hanley was restored to the heart of the defence after completing a one match suspension and Christie partnered Dykes up front in the absence of the injured Che Adams.

But at right wing back Ryan Fraser, the Newcastle United winger, was preferred to both Stephen O’Donnell and Nathan Patterson. The inclusion of an individual who had netted three times in his previous four starts for his country indicated the visitors intended to go on the offensive.

Elsewhere, Scott McTominay, scorer of the injury-time winner three days earlier, moved from defence into his favoured central midfield berth as Callum McGregor dropped to the bench.

But Scotland proved unable to seriously test Faroes goalkeeper Gestsson. John McGinn teed McTominay up for an attempt on goal in the 21st minute with a defence-splitting pass. But the Manchester United player was at a tight angle and was easily denied. 

Craig Gordon was far, far busier is a disappointing opening 45 minutes and ensured the scoreline remained level with an outstanding save.

Hanley failed to deal with a Gestsson clearance and Gilli Sorensen cut it back across goal to Ari Mohr Jonsson. Only an instinctive reaction from Gordon prevented the winger from breaking the deadlock. Viljormur Davidsen ghosted in from nowhere unchallenged and pounced on the rebound. But Hanley and Kieran Tierney blocked his effort between them. 

That was not the end of the danger. Moments later, Brandur Olsen turned Tierney and whipped a cross in to Sonni Nattestad. The defender got in front of Hanley and got on the end of the dipping delivery only to head high over the crossbar.

Scotland offered very little in response. They were badly out-of-sorts on a surface they appeared uncomfortable with. Should they have travelled over and familiarised themselves with the surroundings and the underfoot conditions? It may have helped.

But too many players were flat, too many passes went astray, too many touches were poor and too many tackles were missed. When Christie picked up a booking for a needless foul on Hallur Hansson that will rule him out of the Moldova match the night went from bad to worse. 

There was a VAR check early in the second-half after Christie was brought down by Heini Vatnsdal as he barged his way into the Faroes penalty box. But match official Matej Jug decided he had been offside when Billy Gilmour played him through. 

Scotland were much improved after half-time. Not that they could have done much worse. They applied sustained pressure to their opponents without carving out any clear cut scoring opportunities. Gilmour sclaffed and attempt wide. Then Dykes picked up a yellow card and a suspension.

Clarke made his first change in the 68th minute when he put on McGregor for Jack Hendry and moved McTominay in to his three man backline. The introduction of the Celtic captain to proceedings injected energy to Scotland’s play. Gilmour and McGinn both forced fine saves from Gestsson.

Nathan Patterson replaced Fraser and Kevin Nisbet took over from Christie. The Rangers defender supplied the assist that kept Scotland on track for their first World Cup since France ’98.