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Scots surprise Strachan
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan admitted his team had surprised even him with their performance in a dramatic 2-1 victory over Macedonia on a poor pitch in Skopje.
Scotland were not allowed to train on the full Philip II Arena pitch on Monday night after the turf cut up badly during Macedonia's 2-1 win over Wales three days earlier.
But Strachan's men produced an impressive display and dominated the first half before Ikechi Anya marked a brilliant full international debut with a well-taken opener on the hour mark.
Substitute keeper Matt Gilks, who came on at half-time after David Marshall suffered a hip injury, made a number of excellent saves before Ivan Kostovski levelled in the 84th minute.
But Maloney, who gave the ball away moments before the equaliser, curled into the top corner five minutes later to lift Scotland off the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group and above their hosts and Wales into fourth spot.
Strachan said: "You look at the surface and think a win would be great.
"How do you win? You think a couple of breakaways, you try your best.
"But to play like that and get a win, because that's a win and a performance, was terrific - against a side who beat Wales.
"The first half we were exceptional and the second half we were good. You expect Macedonia to come back. You expect their manager say things at half-time and they did that, they made it very difficult.
"But we still tried to play at all times."
The pitch had numerous pieces of repaired turf but it was bumpy all over and it completely gave way at one stage when Steven Whittaker tried to make a clearance.
Strachan said: "We weren't allowed to train on it last night. We were only allowed to train on half a pitch.
"We thought the other half mustn't be very good either.
"The UEFA observer said the pitch was not good enough to train on.
"There were a lot of divots put in and sand thrown in. They tried their best, the Macedonian people, to get the pitch going.
"So to play football like that on a surface like that was a huge bonus.
"It did surprise me because I couldn't imagine the game getting played like that. I thought it was going to be far scrappier but it didn't work that way."
Anya has proved a revelation since making his Scotland debut as a substitute in Friday's 2-0 defeat by Belgium. The Watford player got round the outside of the Macedonian right-back on numerous occasions and put in a series of crosses, particularly in the first half.
And the left winger showed excellent composure to fire just inside the far post after being set up by Barry Bannan.
"He must be pleased with himself," Strachan said. "But he could only give him (the Macedonia right-back) a torrid time if the rest of the players were brave on the ball to give Anya the ball in a position where it's one-on-one.
"So there had to be a lot of passes and bravery on the ball before Keech gets it one for one. You don't just give him the ball and hope for the best. You have to build up the play, suck in the back four and give it to him."
And Strachan hailed Maloney's nerve and dedication after his wonderful free-kick winner from 22 yards.
"Good players can deal with pressure," the former Celtic manager said. "They can take free-kicks and corners at the right time.
"That's not a fluke. He has been practising since I first knew him eight years ago."
Maloney's goal was only his second for his country - the first was also a free-kick, against the Faroe Islands.
The Wigan player told Press Association Sport: "These are the sort of situations I guess you practise for. They don't always come off.
"I had one at my club recently that didn't quite come off so to do it tonight was pretty special.
"I didn't do particularly well for the Macedonia goal and that was certainly going through my head when I was lining the free-kick up.
"Particularly the first half I thought we were outstanding, so it was brilliant to get the win, it really is."