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Scotland 3 Northern Ireland 0

Feb 10 2011 By James Traynor

JUST who were these imposters? They couldn't have been Scots. They had our jerseys on. And those were our lions on the chests. But wait, this lot played football.

They made their opponents appear slow and amateurish. And they scored goals. Three of them.

What trick was Craig Levein playing on us because although his men were dressed in our clobber they didn't play like us. This lot were good. Very good.

And what an absolute joy it was to sit back in Dublin's Aviva Stadium last night and watch the national team play with confidence and intelligence.

They controlled this game from start to finish and Scotland's 3500 fans savoured every moment.

Not even the loss of Scott Brown an hour before kick-off - it was decided not to risk aggravating a groin injury from the Old Firm game - could upset Scotland.

James McArthur was told he would be starting his first match for Scotland and the Wigan player grabbed his chance by scoring his first goal for his country.

His was the second of Scotland's goals with captain Kenny Miller bagging the first. That was his 13th in 52 appearances but the third goal - by Kris Commons - was a peach.

It finished off a terrific passing sequence which was just so unlike us. But this was Scotland finally getting it right and proving we can play a bit when we put our minds to it.

There were several big performances from players such as Charlie Adam, Alan Hutton, Phil Bardsley, James Morrison, and Commons. It was great stuff even if Northern Ireland were pretty hopeless in this Carling Nations Cup tie in Dublin.

Levein said he sensed his squad was growing in confidence and insisted they have talent. He was right and for the first time in years we can look forward with hope and belief.

This was immensely enjoyable and although the competition won't register outside Scotland, Ireland or Wales, we are entitled to savour the performance.

Scotland are off the floor and looking gallus again at last.

Brown's withdrawal meant the SPL contingent was reduced from 10 to nine players at the start. However, this was nothing like an SPL match.

This was actually pretty good once the Scots settled into a decent rhythm. Much better, in fact, than the army band's rendition of Flower of Scotland but then, that isn't a proper anthem anyway.

The rain made the pitch greasy and the ball difficult to control as Jonny Tuffey found out early on when he tried to take a touch on a passback. The ball almost got away from him and Commons darted in to block the Inverness Caley Thistle keeper's clearance. However, Tuffey recovered.

But much worse would befall poor Tuffey just after half an hour when he'd be left looking helpless and hopeless.

Before that, however, Steve Davis, operating on the right of the Northern Ireland midfield, helped create a decent chance for Niall McGinn. The Celtic player got away from Christophe Berra but Allan McGregor saved easily.

If the Irish had been rocked earlier in the week by their own mass withdrawals, they were coping well enough but their weaknesses began to show and they almost fell behind after 14 minutes.

Commons scurried down the left and dallied long enough for Miller to peel away from his markers inside the box. When the ball arrived, all the Bursaspor player had to do was turn it into the net.

Instead Miller ballooned the ball over the bar and was left with his head in his hands.

Minutes later he would make amends. James Morrison won a corner kick on Scotland's left and Adam ambled over to take control. He looked up, delivered to the near post where Paddy McCourt was rooted to the spot while Phil Bardsley nipped in front of him and headed on.

Green and blue jerseys immediately flocked to the scene and with Stephen Craigan bowled over in the rush, Miller smacked the ball in from close range.

Scotlad's fans, perhaps still bemused by the bizarre take on their beloved anthem, found their voices and Steven Caldwell thought he'd found the net when he rose to connect with another Adam corner. The defender's header glanced the bar and the ball flew over.

A few minutes later, the Irish had to clear off their line after Commons had ghosted into space but with Bardsley and Alan Hutton starting to venture further forward on the flanks, Scotland's threat was growing.

But their second goal was a result of Tuffey's blunder. Hutton had powered down the right before laying the ball off to McArthur who glanced up and sent what looked like a cross to the far post.

If that was the intention, the delivery was dreadful but it was enough to deceive Tuffey who allowed the ball to float over his head and into the net.

Was this really Scotland? Was this us controlling a match and creating real opportunities? And was that half-time already? Time really does fly when you're having fun.

Northern Ireland's manager, Nigel Worthington, had to do something to change the course of the match and so changes were made. Aberdeen's Rory McArdle was kept indoors after the break. Lee Hodson took over at right-back and Grant McCann was replaced by recent Rangers signing David Healy.

The Irish started the second half with a bit of a flourish but it didn't last and the Scots put together a flowing move for their third goal. Adam was involved in it and so, too, were Morrison and Naismith before Commons tucked his shot neatly under Tuffey.

So smooth, so slick, so controlled and so very easy.

So easy, in fact, that Levein was able to take off Adam, Bardsley and Naismith only 11 minutes in. Barry Bannan, Mark Wilson and Robert Snodgrass were sent on in their places.

Scotland just kept strolling forward in search of another goal which they nearly grabbed when Wilson's deflected shot was turned round a post by Tuffey at the last moment.

Craig Conway replaced Commons and Morrison, who had taken a kick on an ankle, made way for Chris Maguire. Then Danny Wilson was sent on for Miller but the task was over, the job complete.

Scotland had found a tempo but more importantly they discovered that it is really okay to get men forward and play in the other team's half. Good things can happen when you do that. And you can also win football matches.

It's just a pity that Scotland's two other Carling Nations Cup matches won't be played until May.

Let's hope in the meantime we don't forget what we did last night.

Taken from the Daily Record

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