Maloney masterminds clever corner as Strachan’s Scotland sink Irish
A clever short corner routine and the width of the crossbar combined to create more drama in Euro 2016 qualifying Group D, as Scotland moved level on points with the Republic of Ireland by winning their all-Celtic clash.
Coral now offer odds of 11/10 for the Scots to qualify for their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. That was formerly the Republic’s price to advance to a second successive European championship, but they are out to 11/8.
Shaun Maloney scored as Gordon Strachan got one over Martin O’Neill, the man he succeeded as club manager on this Glasgow ground. Those two former Celtic coaches colliding was one of a myriad of subplots, as the race to reach the France finals took another tasty turn.
Both British Isles sides join reigning world champions Germany in sitting three points behind table-toppers Poland, with only second spot also guaranteed a place at the Euro 2016 tournament.
Former Celtic and Aston Villa creator Maloney, now plying his trade with Championship team Wigan Athletic, capped a classy display with a curling effort 15 minutes from time.
Interchanging with Ikechi Anya, whose inclusion in the Scotland setup by Strachan has proved a masterstroke because of his work rate and direct running, and skipper Scott Brown, Malaysia-born Maloney bent the ball past a helpless David Forde.
And yet the Tartan Army will know when the celebrations in Glasgow die down that their team rode their luck a little. Centre back Grant Hanley can thank UEFA selecting a Serbian referee for this encounter, as another official from a less physical football background would surely have sent him off.
Blackburn Rovers defender Hanley only received a yellow card for bringing down Republic striker Shane Long when he was the last man. A professional foul of this nature, even if it occurs inside the first quarter of an hour, should really result in red.
Hanley’s misdemeanors did not end there either. He appeared to lead with his arm when clashing with Irish keeper Forde at a set piece. Raised limbs like this can also end in an early bath.
These instances apart, there was more encouraging, industrious wide work from Andrew Robertson and Anya down the left, while Steven Whittaker deputised for the injured Alan Hutton behind Maloney on the opposite side.
Charlie Mulgrew, one of two Scotland starters playing on home club turf, meanwhile, was a smooth operator in the engine room. Strachan’s strike pairing Steven Fletcher and Steven Naismith continue to put themselves about, though the former limping off during the second half injured will be cause for concern.
Derby County top scorer Chris Martin spurned a couple of chances when he replaced Sunderland counterpart Fletcher. There was also the woodwork to thank, first from a Republic perspective when aerial threat Jon Walters got just enough on Mulgrew’s free kick to hit his own bar.
Scotland stopper David Marshall and the goal-frame also saved the hosts. Glasgow-born Ireland winger Aiden McGeady, booed by the Celtic Park crowd which one cheered him, brought the best out of the Cardiff City custodian.
Hanley then headed against his own bar in stoppage time from substitute Robbie Brady’s dead ball delivery.
This clash of Celtic nations may not have been one for the football purists, but what it lacked in technical prowess was more than compensated for by passion and committed challenges.
O’Neill may be left to rue leaving the Republic’s record scorer Robbie Keane on the bench. While Ireland go on to end their calendar year with a friendly against the USA, it’s gets even more tasty for Strachan.
Let’s just call bringing England north of the border, a mere two months after a referendum regarding Scottish independence, an Auld Firm fight football fans and punters cannot afford to miss.