Relentless Scottish wave too much for brave Ireland at Hampden

Progress remains slow for the Kenny Project on frustrating night in the Nations League

Scotland 2 Republic of Ireland 1

Hendry 49 Christie 82 (p); Egan 18

In the end, failure for Stephen Kenny’s men. Goals by Jack Hendry and Ryan Christie, from a late penalty, washed a relentless Scottish wave over this brave Irish performance.

Brave, honest and completely overrun in the second half, Hampden willed victory after Ireland skipper John Egan’s early finish gave his team a fully deserved half-time lead.


And so, the Nations League pits the Republic of Ireland against Armenia in a relegation play-off to remain in the B division of European football next Tuesday at the Aviva stadium (Scotland can win Group One, and pass out England on the ladder, with a draw against Ukraine in Krákow). Pre-match Kenny declared 44,000 tickets are already sold. We shall see. At least the 17,000 season ticket holders know there is something important at stake.

Amidst the rough and tumble of this Celtic collision in Glasgow, Ireland’s organisation and quality shone brighter than Scotland’s for the opening 45 minutes despite the hosts collection of Premier League regulars.

Jason Knight was the odd man out, being the only League One man on show, having opted to stick around Derby County for the arrival of Paul Warne. Knight may ply his trade in the English third tier but he never looked out of place on this pulsating international stage.

Brentford’s Aaron Hickey did manage to nutmeg him as Scotland’s slick movement off the right sought to walk a goal into the Irish net on 17 minutes.

The colossal Nathan Collins intervened, cleaning up in regal fashion before sending Michael Obafemi bearing down on goal. Obafemi dribbled with a hiccup, looking like he was about to stumble before his toe-poke allowed Troy Parrott to force the corner that indirectly delivered the opening goal.

Egan has a habit of emerging from the thicket to score off a set piece. See the Algarve in 2021 and now Hampden in 2022. Son of Derry James McClean slow walked to the corner flag to spike decibels levels. Lyndon Dykes headed clear, only for Jayson Molumby to win the second ball as Collins teed up the captain.

The place went deathly silent except for a heaving pocket of green fans celebrating like they were across town in Paradise.

Contradictions were everywhere on this wild weekend in a city used to being drenched in green, as thousands more Irish fans scattered around the stadium. You could see but not hear them.

Egan’s calm finish prompted Scotland’s already high press to almost climb into Bazunu’s boots. Dykes, Stuart Armstrong and John McGinn made the Irish goalkeeper kick long, as the battle of breaking possession examined the technical ability on show. No one was found wanting.

In the preamble, Scotland repeatedly moaned about being off colour for the 3-0 sacking in Dublin last summer. The riposte was ruthless.

The unruffable Scott McTominay had a weak effort on Bazunu’s goal early on before Troy Parrott found next in the 11th minute. Parrott was a clear yard offside, from Dara O’Shea’s pass, but a very late flag encouraged him to amble across Craig Gordon’s goalmouth before slamming home.

A smatter of sectarian chanting was heard but everyone appeared to enjoy the Scots serenading Gareth Southgate’s relegated side, after England lost at the San Siro on Friday night, with the hastily prepared “It’s coming down, England’s coming down.” The Scots could be going up but with Wales also relegated, the Nations League B could conceivably revive the Home Nations competition in 2024. Work your magic Uefa.

Not a single Irish person can complain about refefereeing leniency for crunching tackles after Josh Cullen was blessed to avoid a second yellow card inside 30 seconds. If Sandro Schärer, the Swiss official, was overzealous with the first booking, when Cullen gently kicked the ball away, he was generous when the Burnley midfielder chopped Hickey. Cullen is now suspended for Tuesday.

Scotland thundered into the second half and Hendry gave Bazunu no chance with a downward header into the far corner after a sumptuous delivery by Ryan Christie. It was fully deserved.

Collins continued to dampen fires but Parrott failed to hold up his end of the bargain, missing a sitter on 56 minutes. Obafemi’s clever, early no-look pass gave the Spurs prodigy a clean run on Gordon but his complete lack of confidence, having failed to score in 10 league starts on loan to Preston, meant the 20-year-old shot tamely.

With the in-form Chiedozie Ogbene straining at the leash, Ireland manager Stephen Kenny was expected to wield the axe but he replaced a jaded Obafemi instead.

The Parrott miss was the moment.

Scotland kept pounding Ireland’s orange line as Bazunu produced his trademark acrobatics to deny Ryan Fraser’s rasping strike.

All the while Kenny and Keith Andrews were in conclave, hesitating to change personnel when it was obvious that fresh inspiration was needed as the 3-5-2 became a retreating back five. Egan duly took a yellow for upending Christie as Alan Browne, Seámus Coleman and Callum Robinson finally entered the fray.

As Flower of Scotland boomed around Hampden, there would be no honours shared. Christie’s winner was a harsh penalty but the correct call as Browne’s hand ball, off a McGinn corner, could not be denied by VAR. Coleman took a yellow for protesting.

In the end, progress remains slow for the Kenny Project as his record drops to an ugly six wins, six draws and 11 defeats. Grim statistics as Ireland stumble onto Tuesday and the Euros 2024 draw on October 9th where they are now guaranteed to be third seeds.

Scotland: Gordon (Hearts of Midlothian); Hickey (Brentford), Hendry (Cremonese), McKenna (Nottingham Forest), Tierney (Arsenal); McGregor (Celtic), McTominay (Manchester United); Armstrong (Southampton), McGinn (Aston Villa) Christie (Bournemouth); Dykes (QPR).

Subs: Taylor (Celtic) for Tierney (42), Ralston (Celtic) for Hickey, Fraser (Newcastle United) for Armstrong (both 58), Adams (Southampton) for Dykes, McLean (Norwich City for Christie (both 85).

Republic of Ireland: Bazunu (Southampton); Collins (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Egan (Sheffiled United), O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion); Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Knight (Derby County), Cullen (Burnley), Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), McClean (Wigan Athletic); Parrott (Preston North End), Obafemi (Swansea City).

Subs: Ogbene (Rotherham United) for Obafemi (60), Coleman (Everton) for Doherty, Browne (Preston North End) for Molumby, Robinson (Cardiff City) for Parrott (all 76), Brady (Preston North End) for McClean (83)

Referee: Sandro Schärer (Switzerland).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent