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Scotland sweep aside Northern Ireland in Nations Cup

Scotland 3

* Miller, K 19,
* McArthur 32,
* Commons 51

Northern Ireland 0

* Ewan Murray at Aviva Stadium
*, Wednesday 9 February 2011 21.48 GMT

James McArthur, Scotland v Northern Ireland Scotland's James McArthur, right, celebrates with Alan Hutton after scoring his side's second goal against Northern Ireland. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Action Images

There are plenty who question the validity of the Carling Nations Cup. Craig Levein will not be counted among that number. Scotland's manager looked on as, finally, everything clicked for his team. Goals from Kenny Miller – captaining Scotland for the first time – and James McArthur had victory tied up by half-time.

One further goal in the second period meant Scotland matched the Republic of Ireland's result against Wales on Tuesday night. It was the Scots' biggest win on foreign shores since Bulgaria were demolished in the Kirin Cup in Japan five years ago.

Scotland's full-backs played like wingers, midfielders prompted with menace and defenders rarely looked troubled. It would be typical of a Scotland team if such a showing were not repeated when it really counts, but Levein will see this as justification of the high regard he publicly holds his players in.

Levein's opposite number, Nigel Worthington, will not have such positive memories of a rare Northern Ireland trip to Dublin. Although he was suffering from the loss of key players, Worthington could only be perturbed by an abject showing. Scotland were good, but faced little resistance.

Scotland's team had been disrupted in the warm-up, with the influential and on‑form Scott Brown complaining of a tight groin, leading to his replacement by McArthur in the starting XI.

Still, Levein entered this match knowing his team had failed to score even one goal outside their own country since his appointment in December 2009. The Scots' poor away record precedes Levein and is largely responsible for their non-appearance at a major tournament since 1998.

Northern Ireland's personnel problems were more acute. Worthington had to deal with the raft of withdrawals that managers hoped to avoid when agreeing to friendly fixtures so close to home. Worthington's cause was not helped, either, by George McCartney's weekend decision to retire from international football, for the second time in his career.

Northern Ireland turned to the Celtic duo of Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt for creativity here with Scotland, typically, utilising Miller as a lone striker.

Miller should have marked his captaincy with a goal as early as the 14th minute. Phil Bardsley, enjoying his transformation to a left-back for both club and adopted country, fed Kris Commons with a fine reverse pass; Miller subsequently fired wastefully over from eight yards.

The game had been preceded by the booing from the Scotland support of Northern Ireland's anthem, God Save the Queen. The Irish contingent afforded the same treatment to the onset of Flower of Scotland. Some people get terribly excited by such antics; on this occasion, it was entirely predictable. As was the low attendance.

Miller ensured it was cheering that came from the Scottish fans before too long. Stephen Craigan and Rory McArdle got themselves into a terrible mess trying to defend a Charlie Adam corner, with the Bursaspor striker on hand to score from close range. Scotland's barren run away from Glasgow had finally ended.

Steven Caldwell then headed – or rather shouldered – the ball against the Northern Ireland crossbar from another teasing Adam set play.

McArthur will no doubt claim he meant to score Scotland's second, even if the reality appeared different. The youngster, making his first international start, looked to be aiming for Miller at the back post with a cross which instead looped over Jonny Tuffey and into the net.

There was no such uncertainty about Commons's intervention. Roars of "Olé" greeted every pass in a sweeping move that culminated in James Morrison feeding Steven Naismith, who in turn played in Commons. The Celtic winger scored his first Scotland goal with a cool, angled finish.

All that remained was for Scotland to try to better Ireland's scoreline from 24 hours earlier, which would have sent them top of the Nations Cup table after one round of fixtures. Only a typical series of substitutions halted the momentum of Levein's team.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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