Scotland manager Gordon Strachan hailed his players for their crisis management after they turned a sticky situation into a 5-1 rout in Malta.
Strachan could see the negative headlines in his mind with his side level with Malta halfway through their opening World Cup qualifier, but four second-half goals earned Scotland a flying start to their campaign.
Robert Snodgrass hit a hat-trick and surprise starter Chris Martin and substitute Steven Fletcher were also on target but Strachan admitted the first half had, literally, been a sweat.
Snodgrass gave Scotland a 10th-minute lead when his cross deceived Andrew Hogg in goal, but their bright start was cancelled out four minutes later when Alfred Effiong headed home.
After changing out of his shirt and tie into a polo shirt for his media conference, Strachan said: “It’s been a good night, stressful at one point and that’s why I’ve not got my shirt on. I had to change.
“Winning was all we had to do. We wanted to try to perform, obviously, but it was about winning. We started well, we were moving the ball around well but we got too strung out after 20 minutes, they were too far away from each other. We sorted that out in the second half.
“There was a good start to the game and then there was a point, where many a footballer has been there and not handled it, when you think ‘1-1’ and you think about the next month ahead and the nonsense you have to put up with.
“You have to deal with that and it’s not easy to play when it’s like that.
“It’s been proven before that when it gets to a crunch time that nerves, stress, lack of fitness takes over and you are on the end of an historic result.
“You are playing against a team, when it goes to 1-1, you know this team gave Croatia a good game here, only lost 1-0, gave Italy a game here, so you know it’s not going to be easy.
“We moved it about a bit in the second half and played closer to each other and their ability showed and their mental strength showed as well.”
The Scotland fans certainly detected a crisis was in the making during the first half with almost 4,500 travelling supporters barely raising a shout as Scotland laboured to break down an organised Maltese side, who had two men sent off after the break, the second, Barnet winger Luke Gambin, in injury-time.
“It went from everybody enjoying themselves to ‘oh oh’,” Strachan said. “Scotland fans thinking, ‘I’ve seen this before’. Scotland fans thinking, ‘this could be history, the night we get one of our big results’.
“Thankfully the players who played laid that to rest.
“All the nervousness round about there – can you imagine if those supporters or reporters had been on there playing in that? They had to deal with that.
“We were lucky we had a bunch of lads who could deal with the stress that manifested itself because of that goal. A lot of teams have not got that.
“It just shows that in a crisis they can deal with it, these players. And that was a crisis.”
Malta head coach Pietro Ghedin offered no excuses despite his side losing a controversial third to a Snodgrass penalty, when Jonathan Caruana was harshly sent off for a clip on Martin.
The Italian said: “First half we played really well but second half Scotland pushed a lot and under pressure we lost concentration. We have to work more.
“They pressed every minute. I’m not surprised. They have the spirit to play for 90 minutes and they played well.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee because the referee is the boss on the pitch. The referee was a bit heavy against us (at the penalty). I can only say that.
“I don’t want to find excuses. We lost. We lost very heavily. We have to understand the problem. We didn’t deserve to lose five goals but sometimes you have to accept the result.”