Original article appears on Pundit Arena.
It was not the homecoming Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill expected as his side lost 1-0 to Scotland at Celtic Park in what was a fiery encounter. A beautiful curled shot from Shaun Maloney separated the sides in this crucial Euro 2016 qualifier. The former Celtic manager and his current side will be disappointed to drop points in this tie but over the ninety minutes the home side proved why they deserved all three points.
A short corner from Maloney and a poor defensive effort from the Irish let him drift into the box and complete a beautiful one-two with Scott Brown, which included a fine back heel pass from the Scottish captain, and the Wigan Athletic midfielder finished off the move with a well placed shot into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
McGeady intimidated at former home
The pre-match build-up was marred by some controversies including former Scottish international Gordon McQueen calling for the home fans to give Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy a “horrible” reception. With the latter injured, it was left to McGeady to face the home reception. It didn’t take long for the home crowd to show their displeasure at the former Celtic player.
McGeady looked shaky at times as if overawed by the occasion. Booked early on the game for a challenge from behind on Steven Fletcher, McGeady gave away possession on a few occasions and was close to getting booked for a second time towards the end of the match for dissent when he crept close to a Scottish free kick.
He did show some good passages of play in the early part of the second half. The pick of the bunch being a shot at the edge of the box. The ball looked as if it was heading for the bottom right hand corner but was saved by Scottish keeper David Marshall.
Good Scottish offence
The Scottish started the game at full pace, attacking the Irish defence with any chance they got. They almost took an early lead when Maloney sent a cross into the box and was met by Fletcher. The Sunderland forward had an free header but his effort went over the bar.
The Scots also had some luck. They could have gone down to 10 men before half time when Grant Hanley, already booked for a tackle on Shane Long, which was possibly a red card, looked to have elbowed Irish goalkeeper David Forde. However, he was given the benefit of the doubt by the referee.
The Irish started the second half with a bit more pace and swagger about them. They attacked the Scottish goal on numerous occasion, however, Marshall was on form and wasn’t to be denied a clean sheet.
The best effort from the Irish was from a James McClean corner that was met by the head of Jon Walters. The Stoke man’s header met the head of Long, whose effort at goal was stopped by Marshall again after the ball went straight into his hands, killing the attack.
The Scots also went on the attack and were close to going ahead when Steven Naismith was allowed to work the ball into the box and pass to Chris Martin. The Derby County striker’s shot just went wide of the goal.
Martin’s club teammate, Jeff Hendrick was lucky not to be sent off after a silly push on Naismith. The free kick was met by the head of Walters and crashed off the crossbar and out. The resulting corner was the what killed the game. The Irish defence was caught napping and allowed Maloney and Brown the space to pull off a great one-two and for Maloney to cap it off with a wonderful goal.
Robbie Keane, dropped from the starting eleven was brought on after the goal to try and make an impact on the game but it led to nothing as Scotland got a vital three points and place themselves in third place in Group D, one place ahead of the Irish.
O’Neill disappointed but backs players
Speaking after the game, the Irish manager discussed his disappointed about the score line but seemed to be upbeat about his team’s overall performance. “For the away side, I thought we were dealing with things reasonably well and the goal’s naturally a disappointment to us but it’s far from failure,” said O’Neill.
Discussing the goal, O’Neill conceded that his side allowed the home side have too much time on the ball rather than closing them down. “It wasn’t a case were they [Scotland] acted very, very quickly. There were three, four, five, six seconds there and we should have seen the danger. They had two men out for it and naturally, we should have had two, we did eventually but the third man was always a spare for them and we didn’t deal with that situation,” said the manager.
With seven points on the board from a possible twelve, the Republic of Ireland can say they are still in the mix for one of the top 3 places. However, the squad will be bitterly disappointed that they could not build on their performance from Gelsenkirchen last month and claim at least another point away from home, in what would have been a certain boost to morale ahead of the next competitive fixture against group leaders Poland in the Aviva Stadium next March.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Forde, Coleman, O’Shea (C), Keogh, Ward, McGeady, Hendrick (Keane 78′), Gibson (Quinn 68′), McClean, Long (Brady 68′), Walters
Substitutes: Randolph, Given, Clark, Christie, Meyler, Pilkington, McGoldrick, Pearce, Murphy
Yellow Cards: McGeady (15′), Hendrick (30′), Coleman (59′),Quinn (90′),
SCOTLAND: Marshall, Whittaker, R.Martin, Hanley, Robertson, Maloney, Mulgrew, Brown (C), S.Fletcher (C.Martin 56′), Naismith, Anya (D.Fletcher 88′)
Substitutes: Gordon, Gilks, Berra, Dorrans, Bannan, Greer, Burke, Russell, May, C.Martin
Goals: Maloney (75′)
Yellow Cards: Hanley (12′), Robertson (82′)
Referee: Milorad Mažić (Serbia)
Man of the Match: Jon Walters