Belfast Telegraph

Maloney the hero as Scots pip Ireland in frantic tie

Scotland 1-0 Republic of Ireland

By Daniel McDonnell

This time, there was no Hollywood ending. When the Republic piled bodies forward in search of a late equaliser, it was a Scottish player that rose highest in a crowded penalty area.

Grant Hanley's desperate defensive header came back off his own crossbar and, in keeping with the theme of the game, the Scots were just that bit quicker to respond.

They only had two strikes on target but they fully deserved this win, secured from the boot of a man that manager Martin O'Neill brought through the ranks at this venue.

The Ulsterman's return to Paradise was soured by Shaun Maloney, one of the two outstanding performers in this fraught affair along with Steven Naismith.

The Republic didn't have a player with their subtlety and invention amid the chaos and this is a huge setback in the race to make it to Euro 2016.

This defeat will sour O'Neill's Christmas. With four months until the visit of Poland it will fester.

The point in Gelsenkirchen last month was flagged as a bonus but it is now of real significance in terms of assessing the overall picture heading into 2015.

Scotland's victory moves them level on points with the Republic and their only qualifier between now and June's return meeting in Dublin is a stroll past Gibraltar.

Therefore, the Republic are under pressure to get a result against the Poles, who continue to impress as leaders, to avoid a scenario where a loss in the rematch could have disastrous implications.

Four of the remaining six matches are in the Aviva so the Republic are still in a position to control their destiny. But the bar has to be raised several notches from this performance, particularly in terms of attacking quality.

It will be a challenge in Ballsbridge to repeat the noise levels that were created last night by both sets of supporters. This was a great football occasion.

Thousands of fans were still lodged outside the ground at kick-off, but there was still a special atmosphere inside the stadium.

That was one of the pre-match predictions which came true. Predictably, Aiden McGeady was booed from his first touch. Predictably, this was nothing like your average international match. This was a derby played at breakneck speed with loose touches and heavy tackles.

And O'Neill made a landmark call to act on that suspicion, taking the decision to bench captain Robbie Keane and start Shane Long up front with Jonathan Walters playing off him ahead of the midfield duo of Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick.

This was an evening for physicality. Ireland tried to set the tone with Long and Walters combining well in the early exchanges, but there was no real pattern to proceedings as the pace gathered and tension increased.

To the delight of the Scottish hardcore, McGeady was one of the players to pick up a yellow for a tackle on Steven Fletcher.

Hendrick also went into Milorad Mazic's notebook for following through on Steven Whittaker. But the most controversial booking was when Hanley was caught napping by Long and took down the Southampton attacker 35 yards from goal.

Hanley was arguably the last man, yet the official produced a yellow, presumably reasoning that there were other Scots in the vicinity with time to close.

As the half progressed, though, the hosts began to exert more control with the movement of Naismith and enthusiasm of wingers Ikechi Anya and Maloney giving the white shirts difficulty.

Gibson and Hendrick were caught in a spin during a 10-minute spell where disciplined defending from John O'Shea and Richard Keogh staved off some dangerous advances.

Seamus Coleman was ponderous in the opening minutes and assistant manager Roy Keane, after a difficult few days, rose from the bench to call for more aggression from the Everton star.

He earned his corn with two big defensive headers, getting in the way of Charlie Mulgrew when he looked primed to convert.

Scotland were the better side at this juncture without giving Republic goalkeeper David Forde a huge amount to do; a half chance when Fletcher mistimed his arrival to meet a Maloney centre just about summed up their fortunes.

After the break, Chris Martin - in for the injured Fletcher - stabbed the wrong side of the post from six yards.

Scotland were turning the screw gradually and with 15 minutes remaining they seized the lead with a move that came straight from the training ground just after Walters steered a dangerous set-piece delivery against his own crossbar.

A quickly taken short corner orchestrated by Maloney and Anya concluded with a Scott Brown flick being brilliantly curled into the bottom corner by Maloney.

Inevitably, the Republic response was to send for Keane - minutes after namesake Roy had received a dressing down from the Serbian ref for vocals - and attention shifted to the opposite end.

But it was Scotland who mustered braveheart spirit at this point.

The Scots managed to absorb the pressure and glory belonged to the Tartan Army.

Belfast Telegraph

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