Scotland take the high road as Republic of Ireland fall short in Hampden Park battle

Republic of Ireland's Dara O'Shea (left) gets to grips with Scotland's John McGinn
Andy Watters at Hampden Park

Uefa Nations League Group B1: Scotland 2 Republic of Ireland 1

SCOTLAND will take the high road and Ireland will take the low road and it looks like they’ll be at the Euros before us.

Saturday night was an intoxicating mix of tricolours and tackles, saltires, song and skill in a classic Hampden Park atmosphere and a game that was not for the faint-hearted swung one way and then the other on the storied Glasgow battlefield.

Jack Hendry’s towering header and Ryan Christie’s penalty meant the Scots overhauled the battling boys in green who had been the better team in the first half and led at the interval thanks to John Egan’s thumping volley.

But the second half double means the Scots will top the group – and win a party pack that includes a Euro 2024 play-off place, a top two seeding for that tournament and Nations League promotion - if they draw with Ukraine in Poland tomorrow night. Meanwhile, the Republic need a draw against Armenia at the Aviva to hold on to third place in a competitive group.

It was a night of what might have beens for Stephen Kenny’s men. Ireland didn’t quite do enough to deserve a win but might well have done had Troy Parrott taken a gift-wrapped opportunity midway through the second half.

A draw would have been a fair reflection of their efforts but Christie’s penalty – after Alan Browne had raised his arms to block Scott McTominay’s header – meant they didn’t even get that.

“It was a tough game to lose,” said deflated Republic boss Kenny afterwards.

“In the first half we showed maturity, we had a high degree of control and we scored a very good goal that was disallowed and then John Egan did get the goal and we were comfortable in possession.

“We didn’t concede that many chances and I thought the team played well, it was just very disappointing to concede five minutes’ into the second half. From Scotland’s point of view it was a good goal but we were disappointed with that.”

Troy Parrott had the ball in the Scotland net in the first quarter. His ‘goal’ was ruled out for offside but the Preston striker forced a corner which the Scots only partially cleared and, after Jayson Molumby kept the ball alive on the edge of the box, Republic skipper Egan swivelled and cracked a low volley past Craig Gordon.

Hendry’s header beat Gavin Bazunu via the far post five minutes into the second half but Ireland had the chance to regain the lead when Michael Obafemi played in Parrott in front of goal. The Preston striker had time and space but couldn’t provide the finishing touch and Gordon – who had spent the previous night in hospital alongside his wife as they welcomed their son into the world – saved comfortably.

“I thought Troy played quite well,” said Kenny.

“He worked extremely hard for the team and did a lot of good things for the team. I thought he played, he scored an excellent goal that was disallowed for offside and he’s disappointed because he knows he should have scored. He knows it was a good chance.

“He’s only 20 years-of-age and he’s scored four goals already for Ireland and he’s improving.”

Scotland’s winner came when McTominay nodded a corner from John McGinn – wound-up and physical in the home side’s midfield – towards goal. Browne raised his arms and, after a VAR check, a penalty was awarded. Christie kept a cool head to roll it past Bazunu.

Kenny, who obviously hadn’t seen the replay at that stage, mistakenly suggested that Browne’s arms were in “an unnatural position” because he’d been barged into by a Scotland player.

“We’re disappointed to lose,” he said.

“But we can’t dwell on it, we just can’t, because we have a game on Tuesday that we’ve got to get ready for it.”

The loss means the Republic haven’t managed to take a notable scalp on the road since they beat Wales in Cardiff under Martin O’Neill back in 2018. In this campaign Kenny’s men have lost all three away from home.

“Ukraine and Scotland are very strong,” said the Ireland manager as he weighed up his teams performance in this group.

“It’s a tough group. We would have wanted more points than we have but now is not the time to focus on that, we’ve just got to focus on Tuesday and make sure we’re ready for that game.”

Kenny’s men will lick their wounds and switch focus to Armenia now and if they can muster the spirit and drive they showed in Glasgow they should end this campaign on a winning note.

Scotland: Gordon; Hickey, Hendry, McKenna, Tierney, McTominay, McGregor, S Armstrong, McGinn, Christie, Dykes

Substitutes: Taylor for Tierney (42), Ralston for Hickey, (57), Frazer for Armstrong (57), McClean for Christie (83), Adams for Dykes (83)

Yellow cards: McKenna (54), McTominay (87), Hendry (90)

Republic of Ireland: Bazunu, Doherty, Collins, Egan, O'Shea, McClean, Cullen, Molumby, Knight, Parrott, Obafemi

Substitutes: Ogbene for Obafemi (59), Coleman for Doherty (76), Robinson for Parrott (76), Browne for Molumby (76), Brady for McClean (82)

Yellow cards: Cullen (45), Egan (73), Coleman (82), Brady (92)

Referee: Sandro Scharer (Switzerland)