Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Scots youngsters claim spoils

Paul Hanlon
Paul Hanlon

Scotland Under-21s began a new era in encouraging fashion with a 3-1 win over their Northern Ireland counterparts in a challenge match at Firhill.

In an evenly-matched first half Leigh Griffiths' spectacular opener after 12 minutes was cancelled out by Irish striker Eunan O'Kane nine minutes from the break.

Skipper Paul Hanlon restored the home side's lead in the 65th minute before substitute Nicholas Ross, on for Kyle Hutton, clinched the win in the final minute with a low drive from just outside the box.

Debuts were given to six players, including Falkirk goalkeeper Jamie Barclay - who had Hearts defender Craig Thomson and Blackburn youngster Grant Hanley in his defence. In midfield, Hutton joined Dundee United's Stuart Armstrong and Tannadice team-mate Johnny Russell.

With his first real effort on goal Griffiths scored a wonderful opener. The Dundee striker took a Bradden Inman pass at the corner of the Northern Ireland box and arrowed a wonderful left-footed drive past Rangers keeper Wayne Drummond.

A midfield tussle ensued but the Scots were dealt a blow in the 34th minute when the Irish equalised. There appeared little danger when O'Kane picked the ball up on the left-hand side of the box but the Torquay player's curled inswinger evaded Barclay - who looked somewhat sluggish as the ball made its way in to the far corner of the net.

Just after the hour mark Liam Palmer flashed a shot wide of the target from the edge of the box and then Johnny Russell failed with two attempts at goal from close range, following a deep cross from Hanlon.

The Scotland captain turned from provider to finisher when Thomson's swirling corner from the left came off Hanley in to his path at the back post, allowing the Hibernian defender to squeeze it in.

As the visitors went all out for an equaliser, Josh Carson stung the hands of Barclay with a powerful drive before Thomson cleared off the line from a Sean McCaskin header.

But in the final minute Ross, with the Northern Ireland defence in disarray, drove in from the edge of the box to seal the win.

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