Keane equals record and secures title

Mon, May 30, 2011, 01:00

NATIONS CUP Rep of Ireland 1 Scotland 0:HANG AROUND with FAI types of a certain vintage for long enough and someone will eventually mention the night when, under Jack Charlton, the Republic of Ireland won a triangular tournament in Iceland and at the party that followed in someone’s hotel room the prohibitive price of drink locally made those who had invested in large amounts of duty free more coveted company than the players. At least after last night’s Carling Nations Cup success at the Aviva Stadium, access to booze shouldn’t have been an issue.

How much celebrating the tournament win should merit is a moot point but the game that decided the event was certainly enjoyable enough, with both sides managing to produce some open and attractive football. Defending, on the other hand, was a little less composed and quite how it all didn’t yield another goal or two by the end remains something of a mystery.

Both managers, to be fair, had insisted they were glad of this week’s games, with each going as far as to claim that they were keen on winning the tournament.

The assertion might have been met by a bit of scepticism earlier this week but to judge by the way the players were getting stuck into each other at times during the first half, they clearly didn’t view the affair as meaningless.

Stephen Hunt, as is often the case, was at the heart of things a couple of times with the fiercely competitive midfielder getting tangled up with opponents more than once before Scott Brown seemed to decide it was time to cut him down to size.

The referee defused things on that occasion but the underlying niggle persisted and when the generally impressive Simon Cox and Grant Hanley launched into each other, legs flying as if they were lances raised for a medieval joust, Christophe Berra’s expression a few yards away suggested he reckoned enough was enough.

There seemed to be an unhealthy preoccupation too, particularly on the Scottish side, with getting opponents booked and while Mark Whitby could easily have flashed a few more cards, it was hard to see that there was all that much in it for those who ran to him, imploring him to do so.

The Welshman’s decision to caution Scottish captain Kenny Miller for dissent late on looked harsh, though, for the striker felt he should have had a penalty after being held back by Hunt as he sought to line up a shot and the television replays suggested he had a point.

The two managers, in any case, have bigger fish to fry, with Trapattoni focused on Saturday’s game in Skopje and Craig Levein the slightly longer term project of restoring the fortunes of the Scots, who have slumped in the world rankings from 14 to 66 over the course of the last three and a half years. Victory over the Czechs in September, though, would also revive the team’s fading hopes of making the European Championship play-offs.

The Italian will have been pleased here with the showing of his most senior players. Robbie Keane got his 49th international goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s record for a British or Irish players and the Dubliner looked well pleased with the achievement, flashing the number with his fingers to the crowd as he celebrated his 24th-minute strike.

Shay Given, perhaps more importantly, was far more seriously tested here than he had been against Northern Ireland and pulled off one magnificent save in the first half when pushing a fine long-range effort by Phil Bardsley on to the bar at full stretch.

Keith Andrews also did well and must be pretty much a certainty to start again in Macedonia. Immediately behind him, the two centre halves, Darren O’Dea and Stephen Kelly, had a patchy evening, although not quite as up and down as Paul McShane whose contribution to the goal, winning the ball deep inside his own half then skipping inside James Forrest and powering forward for 30 metres before releasing Keane, was tremendous. Late on, though, when Kevin Foley came on for O’Dea, he held the fort well enough after moving inside to partner Kelly.

Levein had cause to take some satisfaction too with the Scots looking comfortably the livelier side over the last quarter of an hour, with Miller and Steven Naismith passing up good chances.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Manchester City), McShane (Hull City), Kelly (Fulham), O’Dea (Ipswich), Ward (Wolves); Lawrence (Portsmouth), Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Fahey (Birmingham), Hunt (Wolves); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Cox (West Brom). Subs: Coleman (Everton) for Lawrence (62 mins), Foley (Wolves) for O’Dea (66 mins), Treacy (Preston) for Keane (83 mins).

SCOTLAND: McGregor, Whittaker, Hanley, Berra, Bardsley; Robson, Brown, Adam, Forrest; Naismith; Miller. Subs: Bannan for Adam (62 mins), Maguire for Robson (75 mins), McCormack for Forrest (86 mins).

Referee: M Whitby(Wales)