Scotland have it all their own way
Scotland 3 Northern Ireland 0:Scotland joined the Republic of Ireland on the top of Carling Nations Cup table in impressive style by trouncing Northern Ireland at the Aviva Stadium tonight.
Striker Kenny Miller celebrated wearing the captain’s armband for the first time by putting the Scots ahead from close range before James McArthur, a late replacement for Scott Brown who was injured in the warm up, scored his first international goal with a chip that might have been intended as a cross.
New Celtic signing Kris Commons sealed the win six minutes after the break for Craig Levein’s side, who played at times with untypical fluidity and flair and who probably deserved to have increased the margin of their victory.
However, Northern Ireland’s haplessness must be taken into consideration. This comprehensive defeat must have been a demoralising experience for manager Nigel Worthington, who was working with more meagre than usual resources given the 10 call-offs from his original squad including one late withdrawal, George McCartney, who had apparently quit international football.
Levein was also forced to change his plans when Brown had to be replaced by Wigan midfielder McArthur.
The Celtic skipper’s enforced withdrawal resonated all the more given that his club manager Neil Lennon, with one eye on a heavy domestic workload, had questioned the timing of the fixture earlier in the week.
In the 10th minute Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor had to deal with a low drive from Niall McGinn, who had been put through by fellow Celtic team-mate Paddy McCourt.
Four minutes later, however, the Scots should have been ahead. Commons forced his way into the Northern Ireland box before cutting the ball back to Miller but he blasted over the bar from 12 yards.
However, in the 18th minute the former Rangers striker made up for that miss when he put the Scots ahead.
When Charlie Adam’s corner came in from the left, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Jonathan Tuffey and skipper Stephen Craigan failed to deal with Phil Bardsley’s near-post flick and Miller gratefully slammed the ball in from three yards.
Moments later, Adam ignored a missile directed at him from the crowd to swing a corner over from the other side and this time Scotland defender Steven Caldwell clipped the bar with a header.
As Levein’s side warmed to the task, Commons took a pass from Bardsley to set himself up for a shot on goal but his close-range effort was blocked by defender Gareth McAuley.
The second Scotland goal arrived in the 31st minute although there was some doubt over McArthur’s intentions after he took a pass from right back Alan Hutton just outside the box.
The midfielder appeared to be sending a cross over to the back post but he watched it sail over Tuffey’s head and in under the bar.
The goalkeeper then tipped a shot from Bardsley over the bar before the Sunderland defender crossed for Miller, who stretched to head over from eight yards.
Most of the action was in the Northern Ireland box and Tuffey saved a James Morrison header after Hutton had again galloped down the right before chipping the ball into the middle.
By means of retaliation McGinn had a shot deflected wide for a corner which came to nothing.
McGregor was called into action five minutes after the break when he had to dive down to his right to save from Rory Patterson, who had turned and shot from the edge of the box.
But a minute later the Scots fans celebrated the third when Commons slid the ball past Tuffey after Old Firm rival Steven Naismith had set him up.
Mark Wilson and Robert Snodgrass came on to make their Scotland debuts for Bardsley and Naismith, while Barry Bannan replaced Adam.
But the changes failed to disrupt the rhythm of the Scots and in the 62nd minute Snodgrass fired over from distance, as once again space became available at the edge of the Northern Ireland box.
Indeed, Worthington’s side looked a sorry lot as Scotland attacks came in waves down both flanks and through the middle, and Wilson’s deflected cross from the left almost caught Tuffey out at his near post.
Both sides wound down in the final stages as more substitutes were introduced, Chris Maguire making his Scotland debut as a replacement for Morrison, seconds before Tuffey tipped a curling Bannan free-kick over the bar.
In the 83rd minute Patterson should have scored a consolation for Northern Ireland, but his close-range header lacked the power to beat McGregor and the game gradually petered out.