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FOOTBALL: HUGH WHAT A SCORCHER; Super Stephen is Scotland's saviour; SCOTLAND U21 .. 3 LITHUANIA U21 .. 2.

Byline: ANTHONY HAGGERTY

RANGERS midfielder Stephen Hughes blasted a deadly injury-time double to bring Scotland back from the dead at McDiarmid Park last night.

Hughes levelled with a header and then fired in a last-gasp shot which kept Rainer Bonhof's babes' dreams of qualifying for Euro 2004 alive.

The battling Scots rallied from 2-0 down to miraculously clinch a Euro 2004 play-off place.

A goal in each half by Lithuania looked to have killed off hopes of qualifying for the European Championships for the first time since 1996.

But Steven Hammell and Hughes produced the classic smash-and-grab act as never-say-die Scotland topped the group to qualify for the play-offs Lithuania had been the only side to defeat Scotland in the group stages so far and the Scots were still smarting from a 2-1 defeat in Kaunas.

The visitors showed they meant business by drafting in three full internationals in the shape of Marius Stankevicius, Deividas Cesnauskis and Zydrunas Karcemarksas.

However, the Scots babes got off to a howling start after just five minutes when defender Marius Stankevicius ran unchallenged and cracked home a speculative 35-yarder that appeared to bounced over Dundee's on-loan Brechin City keeper Derek Soutar.

The goal stunned the Scots crowd into silence and moments later Gary Caldwell had to make a tremendous blocking tackle when Savenas got set to pull the trigger. However, the Scots missed a golden opportunity to draw level after 13 minutes when Simon Lynch won a penalty kick.

Lynch committed Egidijus Majus into a rash sliding tacle and referee Emil Bozinovski from Macedonia adjudged him to have handled.

But Lithuanian goalkeeper Karcemarksas threw himself to his right to expertly beat away Lynch's spot-kick.

Cesnauskis had his name taken for a foul on Hammell after 25 minutes and Karcemarksas was booked for timewasting four minutes later.

Shaun Maloney then showed some neat skill toforce Karcemarksas into a tip over the bar after 31 minutes.

The Scots almost got off to the perfect start in the second half when Maloney wriggled free on the left and his centre was met by Gareth Williams but he scooped the ball well over the bar.

David McCracken was booked for atrip on Cesnauskis after 50 minutes. Arunas Klimavicius then has his name taken for a bodycheck on Michael Stewart and the same player was lucky not to receive his marching orders for a similar offence minutes later on the Manchester United midfielder.

Hughes came on for Williams with half an hour to go as Bonhof tried to inject some urgency into the midfield.

Maloney was then stupidly booked for kicking the ball out of the keeper's hands.

Hibs' Tam McManus then replaced Kilmarnock's Peter Canero as Bonhof went for broke with 21 minutes to go.

However, disaster struck for Scotland after 70 minutes when Lithuania scored from the spot.

Hammell upended Cesnauskis after a tremendous solo run and Aurimas Kucys rammed home the penalty.

Hammell threw the home side a lifeline with 11 minutes to go when he scored from a tight angle following McManus' cross from the right.

Paul Gallagher flashed an effort across the face of goal as the Scots desperately tried to save their skins in the closing stages.

And in injury time their persistence was rewarded when Hughes superbly headed home a McManus cross from the right after a magnificent ball from Gallagher.

Somehow Bonhof's men conjured up a winner in added-on time when Hughes wheeled in the box to fire home the winner and spark absolute mayhem and delirium on the Scots bench.

CAPTION(S):

DOUBLE TEAM: Striker Shaun Maloney bursts through the Lithuanian defence last night to set up another attack as the young Scots stage a remarkable fightback
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 11, 2003
Words:617
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