The tame boos from the Irish fans were sounded out by the deafening cheers of the Scottish contingent at the final whistle at the Aviva Stadium as the visitors put a huge dent into Republic of Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for next summer’s European Championship in France. After dominating the first half, a lapse in concentration handed a priceless draw and point to Scotland in Group D.
The first half was fast paced with both teams starting brightly. The Irish were the first to have a crack at goal, after just two minutes, with Jeff Hendrick’s cross attempt collected by David Marshall.
The Scots followed two minutes later with their first effort. Stoke defender, Marc Wilson mistimed his pass to Jeff Hendrick and the ball was picked up by James Morrison. The Scottish midfielder worked his way up the pitch before passing to Steven Naismith. The Everton man’s attempt went across the box and ultimately wide.
The Scot’s best effort in the first half came from Steven Fletcher after just 10 minutes. The striker had the ball from about 20 yards out and hit it with some power that it forced Republic of Ireland keeper, Shay Given to stretch high and use the tips of his fingers to guide the ball over the crossbar.
Tempers flared at times. The game was hardly 10 minutes old, when James McCarthy went in hard on Scotland captain, Scott Brown. The latter was unimpressed by the younger midfielder’s antics and he wasn’t shy to express those feelings. Nonetheless, McCarthy escaped any punishment from the referee and was let off with a warning.
Glenn Whelan followed soon after. However, this time the yellow card was shown by the referee. The Stoke man caught Fletcher with a late standing tackle. McCarthy was again involved in a fracas and was punished accordingly, with a yellow card, after throwing an elbow into the face of Russell Martin. The Scottish defender was left with a cut on the bridge of his nose.
Then came the moment Irish fans were hoping for. After Marshall tipped over a Daryl Murphy header, Robbie Brady swung in the resulting corner. Again it met the head of Murphy. This time his effort landed straight at Marshall who could only parry the effort. The ball landed right at the feet of Jon Walters. The Irish forward only had to tap the ball into the net. He precisely did so and put the Boys in Green ahead just before the break.
The lead wasn’t to last long though. Scotland equalised just after the restart. Shaun Maloney played a lovely one-two with half time substitute Ikechi Anya in the box. Maloney then attempted to the curl the ball to the bottom left of the goal. The ball deflected off Irish captain John O’Shea and sailed past Given. The goal stunned the home fans as they had seen their team throw away a deserved lead.
The game then went full speed as both teams looked for the winner. The Scottish seemed to hold on the ball that bit better than the Irish. They constantly pushed forward at every opportunity that was afforded to them.
The Irish on the other hand, failed to use their opportunities. Robbie Brady, in particular, was poor with his crosses. The Hull City man hit some of them high and wide, especially at points in the game when the team needed balls delivered accurately into the box.
Ireland had a good opportunity on the 75th minute when substitute Robbie Keane got the ball and dummied the Scottish defence, leaving space open to fire a shot. He put a lot of power and accuracy behind the effort. Unfortunately, the ball went straight into the hands of Marshall.
Another Republic of Ireland substitute, James McClean also had a good chance to put the Irish ahead again, from a corner. The Derry man, worked to get the space and put himself high to meet Brady’s ball. However, while the effort connected, the ball went wide off the upright.
McClean was also part of one of the last significant incidents of the game. The Wigan Athletic midfielder, unimpressed with a decision given against his side, got into a war of words with Steven Naismith. It appeared as if McClean grazed his head against Naismith’s. The referee came over to separate the two and gave a yellow card to each player for their troubles.
Speaking after the game, Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill expressed his disappointed with conceding the equaliser to Scotland. However, he stressed that his side are still in with a chance of qualifying for next summer’s tournament in France.
“I thought we were very dominant in the first half. We deserved to be in front. We absolutely fell asleep for the [equalising] goal even though it was going miles wide. Just after half time, we should have closed it down on three different occasions. I thought Scotland got a big lift from that. I thought their best spell was after that, for 10 minutes. I thought we pulled ourselves round and I thought we were going to win it in the end. We didn’t and I am obviously disappointed not to have won,” said O’Neill.
The manager also looked back on his 18 months in charge and is happy with how things have been going for the Boys in Green. “There are a number of players coming through, which, I’m obviously delighted with. However, let us see where we are at the end of the campaign,” O’Neill concluded.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, lamented his side’s second half performance, which helped them secure a point in Dublin.
“For all you say about systems, we couldn’t get ours working. Whether it’s through Ireland pressing, the physical strength. They are a big team. Maybe that stopped us or maybe it was our lack of match fitness. So, we took a look at it at half time and we moved a couple of people about. We never had a chance to see if our system worked. All I know is, a very good player [Maloney] scored a wonderful goal again. A very good player has got us a point,” said the Scottish manager.
Strachan was also impressed by the intensity of match considering it was at the end of the season. He also wouldn’t comment on the group standing saying that “you never know what the points are going to be to get you to qualify.” The Scottish manager, to the amusement of the Irish press, congratulated the referee on his performance and said he was “terrific the whole game” and he helped add intensity to the game.
The Republic of Ireland now have a real fight on their hands to make the Euro finals next summer. They currently sit in fourth place, three points behind today’s visitors. They will travel to Gibraltar next, in early September, followed by a home fixture against Georgia.
Scotland, on the other hand, will face Georgia away, followed by a home fixture in Hampden Park against World champions, Germany, 3 days later. They now sit second in Group D, a point ahead of Germany, who have a game in hand against Gibraltar.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given, Coleman, Wilson, O’Shea (C), Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (McClean 67′), McCarthy, Hoolahan (Keane 73′) , Walters, Murphy (Long 80′)
Substitutes: Forde, Westwood, Keogh, McGeady, Meyler, Christie, Ward, Quinn, McGoldrick
Goals: Walters (38′)
Yellow Cards: Whelan (19′), McCarthy (30′), McClean (88′)
SCOTLAND: Marshall, Hutton, Martin, Mulgrew, Forsyth, Ritchie (Anya 45′), Brown (C) (McArthur 84′), Morrison, Naismith (Berra 91′), Maloney, S.Fletcher
Substitutes: Gordon, Samson, Whittaker, D.Fletcher, Adam, Greer, Robertson, Forrest, Griffiths
Goals: O’Shea (OG 46′)
Yellow Cards: Naismith (88′)
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)