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Scots Hold Course In Face of Belfast Gale

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Scotland drew their opening Centenary Shield International match 2-2 with Northern Ireland yesterday, at a blustery Seaview in Belfast.




Scotland: Dean Shaw; Nicholas Devlin (c), Alan Lawson, Jamie Clark, Tom O'Ware; Michael Lennox, Kieran Kennedy (sub Lewis Milton 67m), Owen Ronald, Jordan Burns (sub Jack Guthrie 85m); Stuart Love (sub Michael Scott 69m), Ciaran Johnston.

Unused substitutes: Allan Duff, Connaire Connelly, Connor Shaw.


Northern Ireland: Glendinning, Bonner, Harkin, Hughes, McAleer, McGuigan, Murray, Quinn,  T Robinson, Rosato, J Robinson (c).


Scotland (sponsored by Lloyds TSB Scotland) had to contend with the absence of experienced midfielder Alan Urquhart due to an injured toe as they kicked off this match at Seaview - home of Crusaders FC - on a bright, but blowy Belfast afternoon.


The Scottish Schools team had arrived brimming with confidence after excellent results in their preparation matches. However, friendly matches are a different kettle of fish to the 'real thing' and players on both sides looked desperate to commence battle as the pre-match National Anthems sounded.


No sooner had the strains of 'God Save the Queen' evaporated into the fresh Belfast air did Scotland have the ball in the back of the Ulstermen's net.


The Scots' first attack won a corner on the right-hand side of the field. Both centre-halves went forward to contest Jordan Burns' high in-swinging corner. O'Ware and Lennox caused consternation in the Northern Irish penalty area, and the ball broke to JAMIE CLARK who poked it home from close range. 


Clearly the Scots were delighted, and exuberant celebrations followed: all ten outfield players collapsing in a heap by the left-hand corner flag in the Northern Irish half.


Whether this visible ecstasy prompted such an immediate reply from the opposition is a moot point. No sooner had the men in green shirts centred the ball, were they breaking forward. Thomas Robinson found Murray with a through ball which split the Scottish central defenders. He advanced upon Scottish goalkeeper Dean Shaw, and placed a low shot into the custodian's net.


After two goals in 150 seconds, the match lapsed into a rather scrappy phase (something possibly understandable in many players' first full international). Numerous passes went astray, and normally assured first touches let accomplished players from both sides down on the bowling-green-flat 4G surface.


The next attack saw Northern Ireland take the lead after 12 minutes. A long ball from Aaron Harkin found Rosato in acres of space. There was more than a hint of offside, but the Scottish defenders' appeals were in vain as the forward finished smartly low to Shaw's left to give the home side a 2-1 margin.


Northern Ireland then were better able to assert themselves in the game, with Murray and Rosato in particular linking well. The most frequent sound was the referee's whistle: a frustrating passage of play saw both sides penalised for a succession of fouls; whilst three Northern Ireland players made their way into referee Colin Burns' notebook.


Scotland went close in the 25th minute from Jordan Burns' back-post header from Nicholas Devlin's pin-point cross. The Scots were asserting themselves a little better in the match now; but were not really creating many clear-cut chances.


Both Burns were involved in the next drama on the 40 minute mark. Scotland's Jordan was upended in the area; referee Colin pointed to the spot. MICHAEL LENNOX completed the formalities by sending Northern Irish goalkeeper Glendinning the wrong way from the spot.


On the stroke of halftime Tom O'Ware headed narrowly past for Scotland after eluding his marker well at the back post. There still remained time for the men in dark blue to have an excellent penalty kick claim turned down by the referee, when Hughes seemed to handle Alan Lawson's cross.


Halftime: Northern Ireland 2 Scotland 2

The second half began in a manner similar to many passages of the first: with a number of misplaced passes and play being punctuated by blasts on the referee's whistle. Indeed the only incidents of note in the first fifteen minutes of the half were a couple of cross balls which caused alarm in the Northern Irish penalty area and two Scottish players, Devlin and O'Ware, being felled by rasping challenges inside the space of around 30 seconds. The second challenge on O'Ware led to McAleer receiving a caution for his endeavours.


Scottish Coach Stewart Taylor made a couple of changes after 67 and 69 minutes in an attempt to freshen things up a little, but the next chance fell to Northern Ireland. Dean Shaw saved well from a one on one with Martin Murray. The ball broke to Thomas Robinson, who hit the near post with the goal gaping.


Play rapidly swung to the other end, and this time the home goalkeeper Glendinning had to show his talents with a terrific save from Johnston, who was played through by Owen Ronald.


Northern Ireland then had three marvellous opportunities. Firstly, substitute Winchester rifled narrowly past in 79 minutes after linking well with the excellent Murray, who seven minutes later would draw a superb save from Shaw's feet after being clean through on the Scottish goalie. Next, in the 87th minute, Alan Lawson cleared the danger at full stretch with the ever-alert Murray waiting to pounce at close range.


Three minutes of stoppage time heralded a grandstand finish. McGuigan headed a Rosato cross narrowly over as the home side attempted to chase a late winner. Shaw frustrated them with two minutes of stoppage time having elapsed, triumphing again in his duel with Murray.


Owen Ronald could have won the match with virtually the last kick of the ball after a cut-back from substitute Michael Scott, but honours were shared as the full-time whistle blew.


FULL TIME: Northern Ireland 2 Scotland 2


Afterwards coach Stewart Taylor praised his Scottish side for fighting back, and acknowledged that today they had learned about the demands of international football. He was pleased to have come away with a draw against skillful and tenacious opponents, and feels confident that the forthcoming trip to Wales will be a fruitful one. Both Stewart and Northern Ireland assistant coach Andy McMoran felt that a draw was a fair result in tricky conditions.  






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