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6 of 009

SCOTLAND froze in a woeful World Cup warm-up against 10-man Northern Ireland.

And they will MELT in the searing 100 degree heat of Macedonia unless boss George Burley can quickly shake them into life.

Burley’s boys stumbled and stuttered to a no-score bore that left the gaffer still searching for his first win.

They even needed a superb second half penalty save from Allan McGregor to deny the visitors a first victory at Hampden since 1974. Now the Scots will be thrown into the World Cup furnace with a daunting trip to Group 9 dark horses Macedonia.

They have only 16 days to get their act together after this shocker.

And the first win of Burley’s six-month reign seems a long way off after this patchy and punchless performance.

They couldn’t even break down their opponents after Northern Ireland kid Ryan McGivern landed a red card early in the second half.

McGivern walked for two fouls on Scott Brown, but worryingly, the Scots still couldn’t find a path to goal.

And they had to rely on sub keeper McGregor making a great save from David Healy’s spot-kick to even earn a draw.

McGregor, who’d replaced Craig Gordon at half-time, had tripped Warren Feeney in the box before atoning with a fine stop.

But it was a rare bright spot on a gloomy evening as Scotland’s depressing winless record in Hampden friendlies stretched beyond 12 years.

Burley will complain he lost Barry Ferguson, Alan Hutton, Paul Hartley and Gary Caldwell to injury but the gaffer knows his first-choice attack of Kenny Miller and James McFadden lacked the killer touch he craved.

The midfield failed to heed his plea for greater urgency and there was a lack of pace and width.

In short, if we can’t beat 10-man Northern Ireland at home, what chance is there of six points in a World Cup double-header in Macedonia and Iceland?

The Euro 2008 feelgood factor has long since evaporated and we’re heading into a new campaign with an all too familiar sense of dread.

Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington fielded new Rangers signing Steven Davis and Motherwell stopper Stephen Craigan.

Burley’s only surprise was a debut in midfield for Davis’ new Gers team-mate, Kevin Thomson.

Thomson was given a huge ovation — by the Northern Ireland fans who loudly cheered the name of every Ibrox star!

McFadden started up top and traded passes with Gary Naysmith before winning a corner off Gareth McAuley after eight minutes.

Left-back Naysmith whipped in a cross which Jonny Evans nodded away from Faddy after 12 minutes.

Thomson blazed one shot high over the bar before he dragged a lot show wide of Maik Taylor’s post.

But Burley’s boys had the upper hand with Brown and James Morrison coming in off the flanks to flood the midfield.

McFadden’s cutback from the right side of the box was booted out by McAuley after 26 minutes. Manchester City kid McGivern was booked by Danish ref Nicolai Vollquartz for a foul on Brown.

McFadden tested Birmingham team-mate Taylor with a low shot on the half-hour from Graham Alexander’s lofted pass.Scotland were dominating possession — but they needed to put Taylor under more intense pressure.

At the other end, Gordon watched Healy send Northern Ireland’s first real effort high over the bar after 33 minutes.

The Scots were comfy at the back and composed in midfield, but they still lacked the killer pass which Burley desired.

Darren Fletcher was unusually careless in possession and the only genuine width was being provided by the full-backs.

McFadden had to drift deeper and deeper in search of space.

Darren Barr, McGregor and Barry Robson were all introduced at the break.

Skipper Stephen McManus, keeper Gordon and Thomson made way for the newcomers.

Barr became the first Falkirk player to represent Scotland since John White played against Northern Ireland 49 years ago. Northern Ireland introduced Hibs ace Dean Shiels on for Martin

Paterson as boss Worthington desperately tried to get greater support to Healy.

Evans blocked McFadden’s close-range shot after 52 minutes after Morrison had laid the ball into his path.

Robson then lashed a 25-yard drive just off target as Fletcher, who was taking a grip of the midfield, fed him.

Scotland were just on top when McGivern was sent off for another foul on Brown after 57 minutes. McFadden curled the free-kick on target, but it lacked the power or precision to trouble Taylor.

Suddenly the Tartan Army was filled with belief and that grew when Faddy curled another effort just beyond the far post.

But that sense of optimism was punctured after 59 minutes when Feeney escaped the clutches of David Weir and was tripped by McGregor.

Ref Vollquartz rightly pointed to the penalty spot and booked the sub keeper for the foul.

But McGregor, who’d saved a spot-kick at Falkirk on the opening day of the season, repeated the feat to deny Healy low down at his right post.

Burley sent on debutant Kris Commons for Morrison, then Robson whipped a corner to the near post and Barr stooped for a header which was held by keeper Taylor.

Scotland claimed a spot-kick of their own when Commons’ cross struck Evans on the left arm. But it wasn’t a convincing appeal and the Danish officials waved it away as quickly as Charlie Richmond might have.

Fletcher was replaced by Michael Stewart after 70 minutes, with Christophe Berra soon taking over from Weir.

Taylor then parried a Faddy shot after 82 minutes as the Scots made a late push for an overdue victory.

That’s three in a row without a win for the gaffer and a world of woe awaits unless he can turn it round now.

The Sun

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