Scotland close in on Nations League promotion with comeback victory over Ireland
Scotland are one point away from promotion to League A in the Nations League following a hard-fought 2-1 comeback win over Republic of Ireland at Hampden Park.
Irish skipper John Egan dampened Scottish optimism in the 18th minute when he fired the visitors ahead following a corner.
However, Jack Hendry levelled with a header four minutes after the restart as Steve Clarke’s side at last began to play and Ryan Christie slotted in a penalty with 10 minutes remaining to take Scotland two points ahead of Ukraine at the top of Group B1.
Scotland now need only a draw in their final fixture against Ukraine in Krakow on Tuesday night to seal promotion to the Group A pots, which would also aid qualifying hopes for the next European Championships.
Clarke kept changes to a minimum following the 3-0 home win over Ukraine on Wednesday with injured right-back Nathan Patterson replaced by Aaron Hickey.
Striker Che Adams dropped to the bench for Lyndon Dykes, who came on in midweek to score a clinching brace.
Southampton’s 20-year-old keeper Gavin Bazunu returned between the sticks for Ireland along with captain Egan, defender Matt Doherty and attacker Michael Obafemi.
Hampden was packed but the Tartan Army’s optimism drained in the first half.
In the 11th minute of a scrappy start to the game, Ireland attacker Troy Parrott raced through to put the ball in the net despite a despairing attempt by keeper Craig Gordon and the Scots’ defence, but the offside flag was belatedly raised.
However, the Irish fans did have something to cheer when Scotland failed to properly clear a James McClean corner and Egan swivelled and fired low past Gordon from eight yards.
Scotland were finding it hard to get going.
Stand-in skipper John McGinn, winning his 50th cap, had two shots on goal but on both occasions failed to connect properly and the ball skipped well wide.
Five minutes from the break there was disruption for Scotland when left-back Kieran Tierney went off injured – it looked like a head knock after a clash with Parrott at a corner – and he was replaced by Greg Taylor.
The Tartan Army got the start to the second half they wanted when Christie went past Doherty with ease down the left and crossed for Hendry to head in from 10 yards.
The mood inside the stadium changed but as Scotland pressed hard to get in front they almost got caught.
Obafemi raced away on the break from the edge of the Ireland box and played in Parrott who had only Gordon to beat but the Hearts keeper stuck a leg out and blocked for a corner, which came to nothing
Anthony Ralston and Ryan Fraser then came on for injured Hickey and Stuart Armstrong with Obafemi making way for Chiedozie Ogbene, who had the ball kicked straight at him by Gordon, the keeper happy to see it land back in his arms.
At the other end, Bazunu tipped Fraser’s powerful drive over the bar for a corner which Ireland repelled but only just.
Ireland boss Stephen Kenny made three changes in the 75th minute with Doherty, Parrott and Jayson Molumby making way for Seamus Coleman, Callum Robinson and Alan Browne.
Then came the penalty drama.
Referee Sandro Scharer pointed to the spot when Scott McTominay’s header from a McGinn corner appeared to hit the arm of Browne.
After a VAR check the penalty stood and Christie sent Bazunu the wrong way with his spot-kick and the home fans rejoiced at the turnaround, although it was a tetchy and nervy ending where McTominay picked up a booking in a melee which rules him out of Tuesday’s game with Ukraine.
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