Scotland 1 Republic of Ireland 0
Tony Leen and agencies
THE REPUBLIC of Ireland failed the test of nerve at a raucous Celtic Park last night as Gordon Strachan's Scotland jockeyed themselves into Euro 2016 qualification contention.
Martin O'Neill's side might have rode their luck in Georgia and Germany but there was no knight in shining armour to rescue them last night from a display high on passion but short on poise and precision.
The Group D clash had all the characteristics of an Old Firm derby, but amid the boot and bruises, all of the football came from Strachan’s side.
Steven Naismith and match winner Shaun Maloney produced where Aiden McGeady and Darron Gibson failed in terms of controlling the tempo of the fame. It was fitting that Wigan man Maloney proved the difference, curling the ball past David Forde in the 75th minute with technique fit to win any game.
Scotland go level on seven points with Ireland and Germany, with Poland Group D leaders with 10, but there are surely twists and turns still to come before the two automatic qualifying spots and the play-off place is secured.
Martin O'Neill likened the game to a derby clash afterwards, and claimed that when Ireland did "get the ball down" they caused their hosts some problems. Those moments were exceptional, if they were there at all. A late scrambled header came back off David marshall's crossbar but it would been a barely deserved share of the spoils.
Amid a cracking atmosphere the question of whether Republic of Ireland’s Scots-born winger Aiden McGeady would get booed on his return to his old ground was answered in the affirmative by the Tartan Army, who never let up.
The attention seemed to unnerve the Everton winger who looked more intent on proving the majority of the 60,000 crowd wrong than finding a team-mate with a simple pass. Indeed, he was not alone.
Irish players with the ball at their feet were conspicous by their absence. For this the Scots, with Mulgrew effective, deserve credit. Ireland's midfield shape improved with the introduction of Robbie Brady and Stephen Quinn, but once Shane Long departed, the sharp end of Ireland's attack was anything but.
In the 34th minute Mulgrew bulleted a header from a Maloney cross past the post from six yards as Scotland turned the screw and the home fans at last found their voice.
Four minutes from the break Fletcher failed to get on the end of a Maloney cross after the former Celt delightfully pulled a Russell Martin pass out of the air, and another opportunity for Scotland was lost.
O’Neill’s side came out for the second-half in a more purposeful mode and in the 50th minute, from a fine McGeady cross, Hanley did well to challenge Walters and concede a corner which came to nothing.
Moments later, from another Irish corner, Walters’ flick was helped on by Long from close-range with the home fans palpably relieved to see Marshall make the save.
Fletcher was replaced by Chris Martin but Marshall again came to Scotland’s rescue by pushing an angled-drive by McGeady past the far post for another James McClean corner, which he confidently plucked out the air.
In the 65th minute, with the game tantalisingly balanced and not for those of a nervous disposition, Martin screwed a Steven Naismith pass inches past Forde’s left-hand post from eight yards out.
Long and Darron Gibson were soon replaced by Robbie Brady and Stephen Quinn in a double substitution but to no avail.
From a whipped-in free-kick from Mulgrew, Walters headed the ball against the top of his own crossbar but the luck of the Irish immediately went missing.
Maloney took a short corner to skipper Scott Brown, took the clever return pass and curled the ball from 16 yards past Forde and into the far corner and Parkhead erupted.
O’Neill threw on Keane for Hendrick and the Scots were forced into some desperate defending but saw out four additional minutes – in which the ball came off their bar in a last-ditch Irish attack – to the cheers of the home fans who may already have the scent of France in their nostrils.