Scotland vs Northern Ireland: Berra finds reward for Scotland's endeavour

Scotland 1 Northern Ireland 0

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The Independent Football

A late header by substitute Christophe Berra gave Scotland a narrow but deserved victory over Northern Ireland in their friendly in Glasgow last night.

Visiting keeper Michael McGovern made several saves in the first half to keep an enterprising home side at bay, most notably from Steven Fletcher and Ikechi Anya.

The Scots also had the best of a second half which was punctuated with substitutions but it looked like ending in a stalemate until the 85th minute when the Ipswich defender, these days down the pecking order but who had come on for Russell Martin, headed in a corner from debutant Matt Ritchie.

It was a decent performance from the Scots as they turn their attention to their Euro 2016 qualifier against Gibraltar here at Hampden Park on Sunday, although manager Gordon Strachan will be looking for his side to be more incisive in front of goal.

Michael O’Neill’s team were insipid but they will be glad of the work-out ahead of their Group F qualifier at home to Finland on Sunday.

Strachan, as promised, utilised his squad with Ritchie handed his debut. The English-born Bournemouth winger, who qualifies through his father Alex, was drafted into the squad for the first time this week and was asked to support main striker Fletcher on the right with Anya on the other flank.

Derby defender Craig Forsyth made his first start as Celtic’s Craig Gordon was chosen in goal and West Bromwich midfielder Darren Fletcher took the armband.

Manchester United’s Paddy McNair was also given his debut by Northern Ireland and the 19-year-old teamed up in defence with Old Trafford team mate Jonny Evans, who captained the visitors.

Both were kept busy as Scotland started with purpose. In the fourth minute McGovern, winning his second cap, denied Fletcher with a fine save after the Sunderland striker was set up by Anya.

The Watford winger tested McGovern with a low drive that was turned round the post. The well-worked corner saw James McArthur drive high over the bar from 20 yards.

A subdued visiting side created a decent chance in the 13th minute when Josh Magennis headed a raking Evans pass into the path of the unmarked Oliver Norwood but the Reading midfielder slashed his shot over the bar.

Anya had another long-distance drive which sped past the post and his third attempt in the 22nd minute was also off-target, after he had been played in by McArthur following a break.

Shaun Maloney was the next to fire over the bar after the increasingly confident Anya laid the ball into his path.

The Scots kept up their work rate and in the final minute of the first half McGovern again blocked Fletcher after being put through by Maloney.

As expected, Strachan made substitutions at the interval with Gordon, Martin and Maloney being replaced by Allan McGregor, Berra and Steven Naismith.

The latter came close within five minutes with a near-post header from a Forsyth cross from the bye-line following a Fletcher pass. The home side kept searching for the goal their performance deserved.

Just before the hour-mark the Irish replaced Chris Baird and Will Grigg with Lee Hodson and Paddy McCourt and the match, understandably, began to fragment as more substitutions followed.

Ritchie drove wide with an effort from distance and McGovern made another save, this time from a Naismith header.

But with five minutes remaining the Hamilton keeper was eventually beaten as Berra got his head to a Ritchie corner, sending the ball in at the near post.

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