Scotland 0 Northern Ireland 0: Scotland's limitations revealed by 10 men

Click to follow
The Independent Football

George Burley spoke bullishly before this game of the need for his players to be audacious, of bringing the missing spark of wonder to a side that has grown accustomed to being unflinching. Such pronouncements can be reduced to clouds of hot hair on cold, dark nights like this at Hampden. It was a truth Burley might have felt as he urged his players on from the touchline in the game's closing moments.

Despite Northern Ireland being reduced to 10 men, Scotland could not break them down in a fixture with which Burley would have expected to register his first win. It is now three friendly matches he has presided over, and he will be even more wary of the trip to Macedonia in two weeks.

"It was a good exercise," Burley said afterwards. "We wanted the win and it didn't happen. We were able to blood one or two new players. We had a look at some partnerships, passed it quite well at times.

"We had one or two opportunities and you're looking to take them. When they go down to 10 men, they'll sit in there and that's when you've got to take your chances. We certainly learnt a lot. International football is not easy, Northern Ireland came here and made it difficult for us. We've still got a lot to work at but the attitude and commitment was there."

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington was delighted with how his gameplan worked out. He said: "[It was] a very solid performance. We set our stall out with the shape to try to get something from the game to look forward to the World Cup campaign."

With the World Cup qualifiers starting in two weeks, neither manager wanted to treat this fixture as routine; despite its uncompetitive nature, it carried meaning enough for both sides.

In James McFadden, the Birmingham striker, Burley has identified a player with an illuminating touch of imagination. He has also attempted to refresh the squad, adding players who are new to international football, with James Morrison, the West Bromwich midfielder, making his first appearance at Hampden and Kevin Thomson, of Rangers, winning his first full cap.

Thomson began with a sprightly surge, twice shooting from 20 yards, his first effort drifting over and his second spinning wide. Burley, a pragmatic manager, knows one of the oldest truths of the game, that the fundamental strengths of a doughty side can be undermined by attempting to introduce an edge of fantasy.

McFadden is a player of occasionally frail reliability, but a jinking run into the box and a low shot that brought the first save of the match, by Maik Taylor, illustrated how abruptly devastating he can be.

Worthington handed an unexpected debut at left-back to Ryan McGivern, a Manchester City youth player, but it was a familiar figure who cheered the hearts of the travelling support. David Healy is a striker transformed by the unique demands of international football and although isolated by his lone role up front, he scurried around with a latent threat. One sight of goal was enough to see him curl a shot over the bar.

A kind of sedate decorum had seeped into the match. McFadden's brief flurries apart, Scotland were lacking the very qualities of invention and intrepidness that Burley considers necessary.

The interval brought an opportunity to reemphasise the demands of the occasion, but also the inevitable series of substitutes, including an international debut for the Falkirk defender Darren Barr.

The tone of the match altered but the disruption came from an unexpected source. Having been booked in the first half for a challenge on Scot Brown, McGivern was shown a second yellow card after hauling back the same player as he galloped towards the penalty area.

Having been called up unexpectedly to cover for injured players it was a harsh introduction to international football. McFadden's resulting free-kick brought a save from Taylor, but the match had been shaken from its slumber. The visitors caught Scotland dwelling on the dismissal, with Healy sliding a pass through to Warren Feeney and the forward then being brought crashing down in the area by Allan McGregor.

Scotland's substitute goalkeeper redeemed himself, however, with a stirring save from Healy's penalty. Barr then had a firm header from McFadden's corner stopped by Taylor.

The Northern Ireland goalkeeper was an indomitable figure, and he kept his best save for last, stopping McFadden's close-range volley. It was that kind of night for Scotland.

Scotland (4-4-2): Gordon (McGregor 46); Alexander, Weir (Berra, 72), McManus (Barr, 46), Naysmith; Brown, Fletcher (Stewart, 69), Thomson (Robson, 46), Morrison (Commons, 61); McFadden, Miller. Substitutes not used: Marshall, Whittaker, Berra, Boyd, Steven Fletcher, Clarkson.

Northern Ireland (4-4-2): Taylor; McAuley (Duff, 75), Craigan, Evans, McGivern; Paterson (Shiels, 46), Davis, Baird, Clingan (O'Connor, 58), Brunt (Feeney, 55); Healy. Substitutes not used: Mannus.

Referee: N Vollquartz (Denmark).

Booked: Scotland McGregor; Northern Ireland McGivern. Send off: McGivern (57).

Attendance: 28,072.

Comments