Vauxhall International Challenge Match
Scotland 1-0 Northern Ireland
Wednesday, 25 March 2013, 7.45pm kick-off
Hampden Park, Glasgow
Scotland tasted victory on their return to Hampden Park with an impressive showing in the Vauxhall International Challenge Match against Northern Ireland.
Christophe Berra’s powerful header on 85 minutes – ably assisted by debutant Matt Ritchie - was all that could separate the sides on a night that showed off the country’s strength in depth.
The National team were back at Hampden for the first time since November 2013 and up against a revitilised Northern Ireland team, who sit second in their European Qualification group.
Gordon Strachan opted for his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation utilised with a mixture of new and familiar faces. AFC Bournemouth midfielder Ritchie was handed his international debut in midfield alongside captain Darren Fletcher, making his first start at the National Stadium in over three years.
The two Home Nations have seen a resurgence in form in recent times and it was no surprise to see the game start at frantic ‘British-style’ pace. A nice one-two between Ikechi Anya and Craig Forsyth on the left gave the former space to dart into the box and lay-off Steven Fletcher, who looked distraught to see his shot cannon off Hamilton keeper Michael McGovern’s left glove.
Anya is flying high in the Championship with Watford and the pacey winger certainly looked in the mood to continue his form with Scotland, sprinting down the left at every opportunity and forcing McGovern into an excellent save at his near post on 10 minutes.
On 22 minutes, James McArthur made a good run down the centre after catching Northern Ireland on the break and released that man Anya again, who pulled a driving shot just wide of the post.
Northern Ireland have recorded some excellent away wins of late and it was no surprise to see Michael O’Neill’s side start to push their way into the game midway through the second-half. Will Grigg’s powerful turn and shot in the box would likely have gone in were it not for an excellent block by Russell Martin.
In the final chance of an entertaining first-half, Steven Fletcher looked to have beat the entire Northern Irish defence as he cleverly beat the offside trap to meet Maloney’s through-ball. But it was McGovern who came to his country’s aid again, palming the Sunderland striker’s shot to safety.
With the Gibraltar game on Sunday, the manager chose to shake things up at half-time bringing on Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith and Christophe Berra – and it didn’t take long for Naismith to threaten. His glancing header from Forsyth’s cross was inches away from sneaking under the bar.
New-boy Ritchie impressed throughout his first foray into international football and could have marked a dream debut with his powerful long-range drive on 67 minutes. That shot went wide but he wouldn't wait long to make a real impact on the game.
It was his looping corner that found its way to substitute Christophe Berra – making his 23rd appearance for Scotland – who rose magnificently above Aaron Hughes to head in the winner and send the home fans wild.
The Hampden Roar has been a long-time coming for the Scotland team, who will have renewed confidence going into Sunday's more important Gibraltar game.
SCOTLAND I Gordon (GK) (McGregor (GK), 45), Whittaker (Russell 76), Forsyth, Greer, Martin (Berra 45) McArthur (Morrison 61), D. Fletcher (c), Ritchie, S. Fletcher (Rhodes 61), Maloney (Naismith 45), Anya
Subs: Marshall (GK), Brown, May, Robertson, Hutton, Bannan, Reynolds, Forrest.
NORTHERN IRELAND I McGovern (GK), D. Lafferty, Evans (McCullough 81), Baird (Hodson 58), Dallas, Reeves (McLaughlin 70), Norwood (Davis 81), McNair, Hughes, Magennis (McKay 75), Griggs (McCourt 58)
Subs: Mannus (GK), McCullough, Lafferty, Brunt, McLaughlin, Ward, Cathcart