Euro 2016 qualifiers: Maloney is Irish bane again in all-Celtic clash
A deflected Shaun Maloney strike ensured Scotland took four points from six on offer against British Isles rivals the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2016 qualifying, as Gordon Strachan’s side, now odds-on at 10/11 with Coral to be at the France finals, came away from Dublin with honours even.
Former Aston Villa, Celtic and Wigan Athletic operator Maloney, who also netted the winner in the reverse fixture in Glasgow last autumn, cancelled out Jon Walters’ opener, which had a strong hint of offside about it.
Strachan’s Scottish selection saw a few raised eyebrows as consistent flank performer Ikechi Anya was left out in favour of Matt Ritchie, but the Bournemouth wideman failed to build on his winning goal against Qatar in a preparation friendly.
Martin O’Neill’s Ireland, set up in a midfield diamond, were up and at their Group D foes and Celtic counterparts right from the first whistle, though the visitors worked Shay Given through a long-range Steven Fletcher effort.
A keenly fought contest flared up midway through the first-half when James McCarthy was cautioned for a swinging arm that left Russell Martin bloodied. Daryl Murphy then saw a looping header tipped over by David Marshall, and from the resulting corner the Irish went ahead.
Static Scotland defending met Robbie Brady’s right-wing cross, only a point-blank reaction stop from Marshall kept Murphy out, but Walters immediately tapped in the rebound. Replays showed the Stoke City forward was offside.
Ipswich Town striker Murphy came closest to adding to Ireland’s lead, but failed to connect with another delicious delivery from Brady. Strachan reacted to going in behind by throwing Anya on at the break, and he took literally a minute to make an impact.
Playing a one-two with Maloney during delightful Scottish build-up, he teed up the Chicago Fire man. Maloney’s shot deflected in off John O’Shea to bring the visitors level.
Wes Hoolahan’s through-ball then found Murphy up the other end, but Marshall saved with his legs. It turned out to be a so-nearly night for the Championship’s leading marksman and Ireland, as he just couldn’t make telling contact with a Walters flick-on.
O’Neill made substitutions, including bringing on Ireland captain Robbie Keane (benched for personal reasons following a family bereavement), but it was Scotland that came closest to winning it. Steven Naismith saw his close range shot hit prone teammate Fletcher.
Scotland continue to chase group favourites Germany and Poland, who crushed Georgia courtesy of Robert Lewandwoski’s hat-trick after strike partner Arkadiusz Milik grabbed the opener. Ireland have it all to do now, are 13/5 to reach Euro 2016, and must hope one of their opponents slip up to make the play-offs.