Kazakhstan v Scotland Thursday, 15:00 Live on Sky Sports
Scotland get their European Championship qualifying campaign on the road on Thursday afternoon when they face Kazakhstan. It's a match Alex McLeish's men really should be winning, but members of the Tartan Army know all too well nothing can be taken for granted when following the Scots and they will be made to work for any joy that comes their way.
The pre-match betting suggests we're set for a competitive encounter with little between the two teams before kick-off. Scotland did finish 2018 with a morale-boosting UEFA Nations League win and will rate their chances of getting the year off to a strong start at the Astana Arena.
Hawks on a run of form
The home side set-up on the back of a decent run of form, having suffered just one defeat in their last six outings. The spare in that run came when downed by Georgia in the Nations League back in November, ending on the wrong side of a 2-1 score away from home, but they did bounce back when beating Moldova 1-0 in a friendly last month. Kazakhstan's last six outings have returned two wins, three draws and that defeat.
The Hawks, ranked 117th in the world by FIFA, have never met Scotland in competitive action but will be confident in their ability to mark the occasion with a home win, strengthening their chances of qualifying from a group that includes Belgium, Russia, Cyprus and San Marino. Traders have them written off to progress from the pool, with only San Marino carrying a bigger price in a market dominated by the Belgians.
McLeish must make do
Alex McLeish knows the importance of getting off to a winning start in a group where the tougher tests will come against Belgium and Russia. This may be a road trip to a difficult venue, but it does look a great chance to pick up three points at the first time of asking. If Big Eck is to do as expected and lead his side to victory, he'll have to do it without a number of influential players, including skipper Andy Roberson.
The Liverpool left-back was forced to withdraw from the squad due to a dental issue which requires surgery but is expected to slot back into the team in Sunday's trip to San Marino. Robertson is joined on the missing list by Charlie Mulgrew, Jordan Archer and Barry Bannan. That has forced the manager's hand and he has handed first call-ups to Livingston's Liam Kelly and Kilmarnock's Stuart Findlay.
Scotland set-off from Glasgow airport looking to complete the hat-trick, having beaten Albania and Israel in their last two, scoring seven goals in the process.
Scots will do a job in accas
Kazakhstan may enjoy the benefits of home advantage, but they start as outsider of three in the match betting with a chunky 4.90 currently available on the Betfair Exchange. There may be enough in that quote to catch the attention of value hunters who'd prefer a punt at interest stakes on the home win. The draw looks a better bet, however, with a fourth level finish in seven games marked at 3.60.
That leaves Scotland as favourites but we're happy to report there's more of a price available to backers of the away win than we expected to find. McLeish's job was made more difficult by a string of call-offs but there's confidence in the dressing room following the Nations League success and we expect the Tartan Army to be cheering a winning start. Backers can get their hands on 1.93 and that will do a job in accumulators.
Trends point to a few goals
Flicking through the form in the run up to this match and we see both teams found the net in four of Kazakhstan's last six matches, including a 1-1 when hosting Latvia in the Nations League late last year. In Scotland's last half-dozen both have scored on three occasions, a 3-2 win over Israel included in that trend. Both teams to score in this one is quoted at 11/10 by the Betfair Sportsbook.
Punters choosing to follow that clue but would like to see their stake money work a little harder on their behalf can try their luck on both teams to score in a Scotland win, a bet that'll return 7/2 on the sportsbook. With 18 goals scored in the Scots' last five games, over 2.5 at 5/4 makes more appeal than the 4/7 for under.
Both Teams To Score & Scotland win @ 7/2 (Betfair Sportsbook)