Scotland 1-0 Northern Ireland: Berra's strike raises home spirits
Last Updated: 26/03/15 10:00am
Scotland beat Northern Ireland 1-0 in a friendly international at Hampden Park on Wednesday night thanks to Christophe Berra’s late goal.
The match had appeared to be drifting towards a goalless draw until Berra headed home Matt Ritchie’s right-wing corner with only five minutes left on the clock for just his third goal for Scotland, and his first in over three years.
And that will put Gordon Strachan’ side in good heart ahead of their UEFA European 2016 Championship qualifier at home to Gibraltar on Sunday, while Northern Ireland host Finland on the same day.
However, in a contest interrupted by the usual plethora of substitutions – there were 12 in total by both teams – neither manager will have taken much out of the game, although Strachan will no doubt be happier than his opposite number Michael O’Neill at the final result.
In the first period, it was the home team who made all the running in front of a half-full national stadium, and but for a fine display of goalkeeping by Hamilton Academical No 1 Michael McGovern the half-time score would have looked a lot different.
The Northern Ireland ‘keeper was called into action after just five minutes when producing an outstanding close-range reflex stop to deny Scotland striker Steven Fletcher what would have been just his second-ever goal for his country following fine wing play from Ikechi Anya.
And it was the Watford wide man who was the next to test McGovern just three minutes later with a low shot from the left-hand corner of the box which the shot stopper did well to push past his post.
However, McGovern produced his best save in the final minute of the half to again deny Fletcher after the Sunderland forward had been played through on goal by Shaun Maloney’s lovely slide-rule pass, only for the 30-year-old to sprint off his goal-line to smother the Scot’s effort.
The second period, though, produced far fewer moments of goalmouth activity, perhaps affected by the raft of changes made at the break by both countries, but it was one of those replacements who came closest to breaking the deadlock five minutes after the break.
As after a fine move involving Anya, Steven Fletcher and Craig Forsyth, Everton forward Steven Naismith headed the latter’s curling centre from the left-hand by-line just over the crossbar.
And amazingly, one more Naismith header apart with 19 minutes remaining, that was all the second half had to show for in terms of attacking threat, that is until Scotland’s 85th-minute winner.
Bournemouth wide man Ritchie swung in a corner which Berra did well to get his head on and somehow the Ipswich defender’s effort crept its way into the back of the net as the player celebrated his first appearance for his country in 16 months.
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, were left to reflect on a defeat that has now seen them go nine years and 22 internationals without a friendly win, a dreadful run that also includes 13 away matches now without a goal.