Scotland travelled to Dublin for their first Carling Nations Cup game and left the Emerald Isle tonight with three points in the bag after comfortably beating Northern Ireland 3-0.
Bursaspor striker Kenny Miller opened the scoring for Craig Levein’s men after 19 minutes and debutant James McArthur scored a superb second, before Celtic new boy Kris Commons made it 3-0 on 51 minutes.
Craig Levein named his side 24 hours before the start of the game against Northern Ireland, however he was forced into a late change with James McArthur came in for Scott Brown who was injured in the warm-up.
The opening exchanges saw Niall McGinn trouble Allan McGregor in the Scotland goal after 10 minutes, but the Rangers keeper saved comfortably from his Old Firm rival.
That was in reality Northern Ireland’s only chance until near the end of the game as it was all Scotland from then on in. Kenny Miller wasted Scotland’s first chance as he shot over the bar from a Kris Commons cut back.
However Miller made up for that miss five minutes later, Phil Bardsley flicked on a Charlie Adam’s corner and with the Irish defence failing to deal with the ball in the six yard box, the Bursaspor striker pounced and scored from a yard out.
Scotland could have doubled their lead soon after when a Steven Caldwell header clipped the cross after another Charlie Adam corner, while Gareth McAuley blocked a strike from Kris Commons which looked destined for the back of the net.
After the half hour mark, debut boy James McArthur’s cross left Jon Tuffey in the Northern Irish goal flat-footed and it sneaked under the cross-bar and inside the far post to give Scotland a two goal lead.
Sunderland’s Phil Bardsley hit a fierce shot but Tuffey tipped over before the defender was pulled back inside the box and despite calls for a penalty, the referee waved play on.
And as the half time break neared Scotland continued their dominance, with Miller and Morrison coming close with headers.
Despite Northern Ireland making a double substitution at half time, it was Scotland who continued to dominate the match and soon after they extended their lead.
With 51 minutes played Steven Naismith split the Irish defence with a pass to Kris Commons who had time and space to fire the ball between Tuffey’s legs and into the back of the net.
Scotland were denied by the woodwork again when Celtic full back Mark Wilson saw his deflected cross hit the outside of the post twenty minutes from time.
After that the game descended into a meaningless friendly as both sides made a raft of substitutions. But despite the changes Scotland still looked dangerous and a Barry Bannan free kick was tipped over by Tuffey before another debut boy Robert Snodgrass shot just wide of the post.
Northern Ireland eventually saw their second shot of the game with eight minutes remaining, however Patterson’s free header was weak and was easily saved by McGregor.
Scotland manager Craig Levein was pleased with the win, “The most pleasing thing for me, and I must stress this, everybody wanted to be here, everybody played with a smile on their face, and everybody understood how important it was for the fans to come here and see just how good a team they can be. I was hoping that they would make sure I didn’t have to eat my words.”
“I was thrilled with them, not just with the way they performed, but their application was exceptional,” he told BBC Scotland. “I have been watching them week-in and week-out playing at the very highest level and I am not surprised by that. What I thought was exceptional was the way they pressed as a team, they worked back the pitch just as hard as they went forward, which is sometimes a difficult thing to do, and I have noting but praise for them in the way they did that. That application, I think, made the game a little bit easier because we did not give Northern Ireland a second in possession. We have technically some very good players, but they also have good football brains, particularly in the midfield area.”
And while his side lost Nigel Worthington looked on the positives that could be taken from the game, “There were 10 players missing and that lets you see other players, and I thought the younger lads did very well, we’re disappointed with the defeat and the display but you learn, you never stop. It is a worthwhile exercise. There were some situations where players maybe didn’t want to get hurt, from the club point of view.”
“Credit to Scotland – they did what we normally do and we’ll be looking to do that in Serbia. They got tackles in, closed down quickly and broke quickly.”
Post Match Summary
While it was not a competitive fixture such as the World Cup or European Championship qualifiers, the Carling Nations Cup game saw Scotland secure a moral boosting victory over an opposition they struggled to draw with only three years earlier at Hampden Park.
Scotland were close to full strength and they never looked like conceding against a weakened Northern Irish side. They tackled well, closed down the opposition superbly and passed the ball at times like Brazilian Samba stars.
It was also a welcome result for the Tartan Army after the 4-6-0 debacle against the Czech Republic and the late late victory against minnows Liechtenstein at Hampden in the European Championship qualifiers.
Northern Ireland: Tuffey, McArdle, Baird, McAuley, Craigan, McCourt, Evans, Davis, McCann, McGinn, Patterson. Subs: Blayney, Hodson, Thompson, Healy, Boyce, Norwood.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Steven Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley, Morrison, Adam, Commons, McArthur, Naismith, Miller. Subs: Bell, Danny Wilson, Bannan, Mark Wilson, Conway, Hanley, Maguire, Snodgrass, Gary Caldwell.
Referee: Tomas Connolly (Ireland)
Photos courtesy of Fergus McNally | FMCPhotos