Twin Strikers Sweep Scots To Victory
Scotland (sponsored by Lloyds TSB Scotland) took all three points from this clash at Toryglen, with two goals each for the impressive striking partnership of Kieran Anderson-Ballantyne and Lawrence Shankland. However, if the truth is told, the final score-line is harsh upon the visitors, who at times controlled spells of possession and were denied goals by good defending and goalkeeping allied to their own poor finishing.
The venue for this clash was Toryglen Indoor Arena, chosen as a result of the travails of this fixture on Northern Ireland's last two visits to Scotland. In 2008 they were due to be the last ever schoolboy international visitors to St. Mirren's Love Street ground, a venue with a long and proud history in these matches. Sadly, heavy rain and high winds intervened; waterlogging the pitch and rendering floodlight pylons at stand-in venue Lesser Hampden useless. The re-match was a rather muted affair – a midweek daytime kick-off at New Douglas Park, Hamilton. The 2010 instalment was due to be played at Station Park, Forfar, in recognition of Scotland physio Donald Ritchie's long and distinguished service. Sadly for all concerned, the pitch in Forfar was bone hard due to frost, and the match had to be shifted to Links Park, Montrose, at short notice. So, barring weather of biblical proportions, the match would certainly take place in the shelter of the Indoor Arena – something spectators and players alike would be glad of, given the blustery overhead conditions outside.
The serenity of the venue was shattered after only 40 seconds. With abbreviated versions of 'God Save the Queen' and 'Flower of Scotland' still issuing from the tannoy, Kieran Anderson-Ballantyne had the ball in the net for Scotland following a slide-rule pass from his Stenhousemuir and Falkirk High team-mate Jamie O’Grady. Anderson-Ballantyne drew Northern Ireland's goalkeeper Corey Wilson before calmly slotting the ball into the goal to give Scotland a dream start.
Scotland failed to capitalise upon this early goal, and instead the visitors were in the ascendency, dominating possession and having several attempts at goal in the first ten minutes. Scotland's giant Lanarkshire goalkeeper Kieran Hughes fielded a long-range effort from Andrew Mitchell after comfortably saving a header from the same player. The impressive Martin Murray was next to trouble Hughes with a twenty yard drive, before the pick of the Scotland custodian's stops: a full-length dive to deny the same player's header, following good work down the right hand side from Niall Quinn. All of this action took place in a breathless opening ten minutes, whilst the next ten was more cagey - the only time either goalkeeper was called into action was after the linesman's flag had been raised for offside.
Goal scorer Anderson-Ballantyne was almost at it again after 21 minutes. Dogged play allowed him to make his own opening; only Quinn's intervention to block denied the Scots a second. This was simply a portent of what was to follow five minutes later, as Scott Ferries sailed away from his man down the left, before delivering a curling cross to the back post. Lawrence Shankland met the ball with a firm header to send it back across keeper Wilson, and into the Northern Irish net.
The men from the province looked at one another in disbelief – they had matched their hosts thus far, had controlled the majority of possession, but found themselves two-nil down! Things could have been worse for the Ulstermen, had a clear case of obstruction not denied the Scots a third on the stroke of half-time. Unfortunately for Scotland, referee Cook had no cause to blow his whistle for an incident in the Northern Ireland penalty area: the guilty parties were Scottish defenders Ryan McGeever and Stuart Close, who blocked one another when a goal looked likely.
HALF TIME : SCOTLAND 2 NORTHERN IRELAND 0
Scottish coach Stewart Taylor made one change at half-time, with Matthew Cooper being replaced by Connaire Connelly, a hero of last year's Centenary Shield squad. The Scots almost added to their tally two minutes into the second half, when Anderson-Ballantyne cut in from the left-hand side and shot across Wilson in the Northern Ireland goal. The goalie made an excellent diving save to turn the ball round the post at the expense of a corner.
The next twenty minutes saw a succession of efforts on goal from the men in green. John McGuigan almost brought Northern Ireland back into the game with a header from a Murray corner. Stuart Close prevented the concession of a goal with a timely intervention – heading over his own bar from his station at the front post. On the hour mark an even better opportunity was passed up by McGuigan: Glendinning flicked on Cockcroft's corner to the striker in the goal area, but he couldn't connect with enough power and Hughes was grateful to flop onto the loose ball. Scotland were being frequently troubled by the visitors: McGuigan again tried his luck, heading narrowly past after a cross from substitute Hegarty. Jamie Mitchell then went close to registering for Northern Ireland, his 35 yard strike passing narrowly over the crossbar. Scotland were defending well, and this was embodied by skipper Alan Lawson, who had to look sharp to clear in his own penalty box following some sharp work by Quinn down the left.
Against this backdrop, it was possibly against the run of play that Scotland registered their third goal with ten minutes remaining. A long ball over the top of the Northern Irish defence caused mayhem, as the industrious Anderson-Ballantyne challenged goalkeeper Wilson, who had raced to the periphery of his area to aid his beleaguered colleagues. The custodian looked certain to be about to handle outside the area, so he let go of the ball. This was seized upon by a delighted Lawrence Shankland, who rolled the ball into the unguarded goal to give the Scots an unassailable 3-0 margin.
A minute later Anderson-Ballantyne looked set to mimic his strike-partner's brace, only to see his sharp turn and shot palmed onto the post by Wilson in the Northern Ireland goal. With seven minutes remaining coach Taylor made a change, removing two-goal Shankland to hear the crowd's acclaim to be replaced by Dean Agnew.
Still Anderson-Ballantyne strove for his second goal. It looked certain as he raced clear on the goalkeeper with three minutes remaining, only to be cynically tugged back by Northern Irish defender Sam McIlveen. Referee Barry Cook (a former schoolboy internationalist himself) was left with no option but to send the Ulsterman for the first use of the hot water. From the resultant free kick substitute Gary Duggan's drive ballooned into the air, and it was no surprise that Kieran Anderson-Ballantyne found himself on the end of it, in space, to nod home.
Scotland will be very pleased with the result of the Centenary Shield opener, the fact that both front-men notched two goals apiece and the strong way that they finished the match. When Northern Ireland finish licking their wounds, they can take heart from their possession of the ball and the fact that they remained very much in this game until a rather chaotic concluding ten minutes. Next up for Scotland are Wales, at Forfar on March 15th.
FULL TIME : SCOTLAND 4 NORTHERN IRELAND 0
Scotland : Kieran Hughes (Trinity HS, Rutherglen), Stuart Close (Bucksburn Acad.) Alan Lawson (c) (Bathgate Acad.), Matthew Craig (Williamwood HS), Ryan McGeever (Holyrood Sec.); Jamie O'Grady (Falkirk HS), Conor McVey (Holyrood Sec), Matthew Cooper (Banff Acad.) Scott Ferries (Tain Royal Acad.); Lawrence Shankland (Bannerman HS), Kieran Anderson-Ballantyne (Falkirk HS).
Substitutes: Connaire Connelly (St. John's HS, Dundee), Dean Agnew (Stranraer Acad.), Ross McGeachie (Bannockburn HS), Dean Shaw (Falkirk HS), Steven Forbes (Balfron HS), Greg Docherty (Douglas Acad.)
Nothern Ireland : Wilson, McEneff, Quinn, J.Mitchell, McGuigan, Cockcroft, Duffy, Glendinning, Hanna, Murray, A.Mitchell.
Substitutes: Dawson, McIlveen, Dillon, Harkin, Hegarty, Curran, McGahan.
Referee: Mr. Barry Cook (Renfrewshire)