27 October 2012

NI boys shock Scotland

NI goalscorer Stephen Fallon.
Northern Ireland bounced back from conceding an early goal to defeat Scotland and win their first points of the 2012 Victory Shield in Dumfries.

Desi Curry's boys won a Victory Shield match on Scottish soil for the first time since 1975 thanks to a dogged defensive showing, with Seanna Foster and Scott Whiteside particularly impressive.

That said, it wasn't all plain sailing for the Irish, who shipped five goals to England last month and could be excused for fearing another thrashing when they conceded after six minutes. Calvin Miller's excellent deep cross to the back post was headed in by Kilmarnock's Greg Kiltie, and Scotland were 1-0 up.

Northern Ireland struggled to deal with Miller down the right-wing, and the promising forward almost set up a second Kiltie goal on 16 minutes. His cross took a deflection before finding Kiltie at close-range, but the shot was blocked by NI goalkeeper Brett Long.

Defender Jack Breslin could have converted from the resulting corner, but Northern Ireland stood their ground before setting up a counter-attack which fizzled out when Jordan Thompson hit a cross that was too long.

The momentum was swinging to NI, who started to have more shots at goal, but they didn't trouble Robbie McCrorie until they equalised on 23 minutes. A well-worked set-piece culminated in Linfield centre-back Whiteside - no relation to Norman - sending a long header from Ben Kennedy's cross into the bottom corner of the net.

Scotland threatened to restore their lead in the 28th minute. Ciaran Lafferty's header was caught by Long, who stumbled but did well enough to keep the ball from crossing his goal-line.

However, when the score inevitably changed to 2-1 after 38 minutes, it was Northern Ireland who had the lead. Jonathan Smith brilliantly turned past Scots captain Adam Hodge, and then picked out Stephen Fallon with a goalward pass. A communication breakdown between McCrorie and Michael Kelly culminated in Kelly gifting the ball to the St Oliver Plunkett pupil, and Fallon couldn't possibly miss.

Scotland went on the offensive in the second half, and on 47 minutes, a low 20-yard strike from substitute Richie Petrie was dealt with by Long, who was looking more self-assured than in Northern Ireland's previous 2012 Victory Shield fixture.

On 53 minutes, a fantastically-hit shot from Miller went a smidgen over the crossbar, denying the Celtic striker a deserved goal.

Three minutes later, Scotland's Celtic contingent combined well again. Breslin made a forward run into the NI box, exchanging passes with Miller in the process, before opening up a chance for Lafferty, which his Parkhead team-mate fired over.

The Scots dominated the second period, and the introduction of Kyle Spence gave them additional attacking impetus. They had another chance after 61 minutes, when Breslin's shot deflected off an Irish defender, but Long read the situation well and made a decent save in the circumstances.

Five minutes from the end, a Spence cross found Lafferty towards the far post, but he shot over when he should have found the net. The fact that he was flagged for offside spared him from some embarrassment.

During the half, Scotland would have eight shots at goal compared to zero for Northern Ireland, but the fact that they lost was just as much down to poor Scottish shooting as it was to almost-heroic defending from NI.

This was a great morale-boosting win for Northern Ireland, who dealt a blow to Scotland's chances of winning the Shield outright. A Wales win against England next week would really put the cat amongst the pigeons and blow the competition wide open.

SCOTLAND: McCrorie; Kelly, Breslin, Hodge, Wardrop; Scott (Boyd), Nesbitt (Hardie), Finnie (Petrie); Kiltie (Spence), Lafferty, Miller.
SCORER: Kiltie 6.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Long; Edgar, Whiteside, Quigley, Foster; Hoey (Barton), Law, Fallon, B Kennedy; Thompson (C Smith), J Smith (Mooney).
SCORERS: Whiteside 24, Fallon 38.

TDTR Man of the Match: Scott Whiteside (Northern Ireland). The source of NI's improved defensive performance, he scored the game-changing equaliser midway through the first half.

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