UEFA Nations League – Scotland perform well with two wins and a draw, while Northern Ireland labour, but end winless run.
Scotland enjoyed an excellent week, with two victories and a draw to win group B1 of the UEFA Nations league and seal promotion. Steve Clarke’s side were well organised and well drilled throughout the week and Clarke and his squad also proved that they are adaptable, as plans were disrupted with a number of injuries and illnesses. Before a ball was kicked the Scots suffered the blow of Andrew Robertson, Jon McLaughlin, Grant Hanley and Jacob Brown all being declared unfit. There were further setbacks during the home games against Ukraine and The Republic of Ireland, with Nathan Patterson, Kieran Tierney and Scott McKenna all picking up injuries. When the squad arrived in Krakow for Wednesday’s game with Ukraine a sickness bug had side-lined Che Adams and Lynden Dykes. However, Scotland performed well in all three games to securing promotion and giving supporters genuine optimism for the future.
Northern Ireland have endured a difficult UEFA Nations League campaign however managed to avoid relegation from Group C. Ian Baraclough’s side beat Kosovo at Windsor Park thanks to two late goals but then suffered a disappointing defeat away to Greece. While Nations league relegation has been avoided the implication of their poor showing in the Nations League could be that they drop into pot 5 in the draw for the European Championships.
Scotland 3 Ukraine 0
Scotland faced Ukraine at Hampden Park on September 21 and gained a modicum of revenge over the side who ended their World Cup hopes back in June with an impressive three nil win. Mainly due to Robertson’s absence Clarke switched to a back four and, after taking time to settle, Scotland began to dominate. They had to wait until 70 minutes for the breakthrough when John McGinn, excellent throughout, turned to drive a left-foot shot into the bottom corner.
Substitutes Lyndon Dykes and Ryan Fraser combined twice in the final 10 minutes, Dykes heading home Fraser’s corners on both occasions to give the hosts a three-goal margin. The inclusion of two fast central defenders in Scott McKenna and Jack Hendry, allowed Scotland to play higher up the pitch and impose themselves on Ukraine and the victory was fully deserved.
Northern Ireland hosted Kosovo on September 24, looking to end a 14-match run without a win in the Nations League. It took a late show inspired by substitute Gavin Whyte who hit an 82nd minute equaliser after fellow replacement Shayne Lavery created the opportunity, and then crossed for Josh Magennis to head home the winner in injury time. Vedat Muriqi had given Kosovo the lead on 58 minutes, hitting home from the edge of the box. It looked as if it was going to be another frustrating evening for the Northern Irish but the introduction of Whyte and Lavery on 76 minutes helped turn the tide.
Scotland 2 Republic of Ireland 1
Scotland were back at Hampden on September 24 to take on the Republic of Ireland. The Scots came into the match buoyant after their victory over Ukraine three days previously. However, a shaky start, during which Scotland failed to move the ball quickly enough, saw the visitors have the better of the opening exchanges.
They were given a scare when Troy Parrott had the ball in the net, only to be denied by the assistant referee’s flag and the Tottenham forward, currently on loan at Preston North End, had another effort blocked soon after. Ireland were not to be denied much longer and as Scotland struggled to clear a corner, central defender John Egan hammered a shot past Craig Gordon in the resultant scramble.
Scotland though showed great resilience and upped the tempo in the second half. Four minutes after the restart, Jack Hendry brought the ball out of defence and when the ball was worked wide to Ryan Christie the central defender continued his run into the box to head home Christie’s cross. Both sides then had chances but on 82 minutes Scotland were awarded a penalty when Alan Browne was adjudged to have handled. Christie converted from the spot to give the hosts victory.
Greece 3 Northern Ireland 1
Greece hosted Northern Ireland on September 27 already assured of topping the group. The Northern Irish needed to match Cyprus’ result against Kosovo in order to avoid a relegation playoff.
Jonny Evans was made captain for the night to mark his 100th cap, however there was precious little else for Northern Ireland to celebrate. A mistake from goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell allowed Dimitris Pelkas to give Greece the best possible start on 14 minutes but Shayne Lavery built on his positive contribution the previous Saturday by volleying an 18th minute equaliser.
Giorgos Masouras restored the home side’s lead ten minutes after half time and Petros Mantalos secured the points in the 80th minute. For Northern Ireland it was a performance lacking in fluency which brought down the curtain on a disappointing campaign.
Ukraine 0 Scotland 0
Ukraine hosted Scotland in Krakow, Poland on 27 September with the visitors requiring a point to ensure promotion. Scotland had a number of players missing due to injury, illness and suspension but battled bravely to hold out for a goalless draw. Clarke had his side superbly well organised and they defended well with Craig Gordon outstanding in goal. Ukraine created a number of chances and the Scots, at times, were grateful for good fortune and poor finishing. However, they achieved the result they needed with depleted resources and can look forward to building on three great results.
With neither side involved in the World Cup and no friendlies arranged, both Scotland and Northern Ireland will return to action in the Euro 2024 qualifiers in March 2023.
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