Republic of Ireland 3 Scotland 0
The BBC deemed Ireland “low lying fruit” in previewing this meeting of old rivals that “must be picked” by visiting Scotland and their array of Premier League operators.
Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott had other ideas.
As did Alan Browne. When not ghosting into scoring positions, the makeshift wing back did a competent job herding Scottish captain Andy Roberston into anonymity.
But never underestimate how beneficial two young strikers, living off the same scraps, can be for an embattled manager of a stalled football nation like Ireland. The goals to end a growing list of depressing statistics, zero wins in the Nations League being top of the pile, came when they were least expected.
Obafemi glides one to Parrott for a headed finish and 2-0. Click!
Parrott tips one to Obafemi for a sublime strike and 3-0. Click!
Both goals were so spectacular in execution that a packed Aviva had to rub its eyes before an outpouring of joy and relief that Irish souls in the 46,947 crowd had been storing up for far too long.
Plenty to see here. Including some glaring weaknesses at the back. Shane Duffy proved as reliable as ever up front and a wild liability at centre half.
Two Irish goals in the first half could so easily have belonged to Scottish midfielder John McGinn but Stephen Kenny finally caught a break. Scotland’s long-range efforts did not fall while Browne’s groin and Parrott’s in-stride header both found the net in a giddy eight minutes fully lapped up by a raucous support.
Ireland have not led 2-0 in Dublin since Moldova in 2017.
It was hard earned as Scotland copied Ukraine by pressing three attackers up on Duffy, John Egan and Nathan Collins. All three were put under enough pressure to spray early passes over the sideline.
Either side of Browne claiming Ireland’s first, which was made in Derry, Duffy gifted McGinn two clean looks at Caoimhín Kelleher’s goal. The warnings were signalled by Josh Cullen taking ball off his defenders only to be swarmed by Scottish bodies. From a restart Duffy failed to pick an accurate pass, as Che Adams turned up the heat, instead finding Ryan Christie, who played a first-time ball for McGinn to shoot tamely at Kelleher.
Off the hook, Ireland pressed up the left wing, where McClean made Enda Stevens’s selection ahead of him for defeats to Armenia and Ukraine seem like poor judgment, turned on to his right foot for a cross that Scott McKenna just nodded away from the waiting Obafemi.
McClean’s inswinging corner found Duffy at the back post and his downward header hit Browne’s midriff before rolling in.
Before Obafemi and Parrott combined wonderfully for the second goal, McGinn really should have equalised. Again, Duffy could not find an Irish player when passing out of his own box but the Aston Villa midfielder missed the target.
Before the Scottish defence could settle Obafemi’s peach of a lob found Parrott’s forehead.
Five long years since “2-0″ to Ireland was the score of a competitive match in Dublin, Duffy was lucky it wasn’t 2-1 and unlucky not to make it 3-0 when McClean’s latest corner found his giant neighbour only for Craig Gordon to acrobatically tip over.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke reacted at half-time by introducing the prodigious Billy Gilmour but it was another 21-year-old who snatched the headlines. The match was a constant war of 50-50 balls and one such skirmish saw Jayson Molumby’s studs touch possession towards Parrott who quickly squared for Obafemi on the edge of the Scottish box.
The Swansea City striker let the ball run across him before launching a swerving effort that left Gordon flapping at thin air.
“Troy gave me the ball and I just thought: ‘Hit It!’”
Best goal you have ever scored?
“One of them.”
The magical atmosphere spinning around the Aviva was temporarily calmed by Obafemi being forced off injured but not many seemed to notice Duffy’s yellow card, which hastens his summer holidays. The 30-year-old is suspended for Tuesday’s game against Ukraine in Poland. Nobody’s rest is more earned nor needed.
The value of McClean, despite being 33 years old, is increasing. The Wigan winger whipped a fabulous delivery for Browne to head goalward but VAR disagreed.
Three-nil would have to do. The flight to Lodz, Poland no longer seems like a grim trek.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Kelleher (Liverpool); Collins (Burnley), Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), Egan (Sheffield United, c); Browne (Preston North End), Cullen (Anderlecht), McClean (Wigan Athletic); Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), Knight (Derby County); Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Obafemi (Swansea City).
Subs: Hogan (Birmingham City) for Obafemi (55 mins), Hourihane (unattached) for Knight (71 mins), Hendrick for Molumby, Robinson for Parrott (both 83 mins).
SCOTLAND: Gordon (Heart of Midlothian); Hendry (Club Brugge), Hanley (Norwich City), McKenna (Nottingham Forest); Ralston (Celtic), McTominay (Manchester United), McGregor (Celtic), Robertson (Liverpool, c); McGinn (Aston Villa), Christie (Bournemouth); Adams (Southampton).
Subs: Gilmour (Chelsea) for Hendry (h-t), Armstrong (Southampton) for McGinn, Stewart (Sunderland) for Adams, Brown (Stoke City) for Christie (all 59 mins), Souttar (Heart of Midlothian) for McKenna (74 mins).
Referee: Marco Di Bello (Italy).