Scotland returned to inspiresport Centenary Shield action after a two year, covid-induced break. In many ways, it could be regarded as back to business-as-usual: the opponents were the same as last time – Northern Ireland. The venue was the same as last time – Renfrew FC’s smart New Western Park. A couple of differences could be noticed newly rebranded SAFIB inspiresport Centenary Shield tie: this visit was under the shimmering floodlights; rather than a brisk afternoon wind and tepid sunshine, and the illuminants were augmented by the presence of television cameras to beam the match live on BBC television.
All players were new too: no ‘old lags’ from previous seasons were there to show rookies the ropes. After the National Anthems faded, however, the first fifteen minutes followed a traditional pattern with a frenetic pace being set and tackles aplenty. These first fifteen minutes saw the visitors on top, but a combination of alert goalkeeping from Liam Russell and resolute defending, particularly from John Binnie and Matthew Strachan ensured the game remained goalless.
Indeed Scotland had to wait until the 17th minute for their first attempt at goal. A jinking run down the left from Lewis Gibson allowed the wide-man a glimpse of goal, but his shot from 22 yards swept into the side netting. This left channel would prove a goalden highway for the Scots two minutes later as Lucas Stenhouse combined in an aggressive break with full back Jay Burns. As the ball returned to Stenhouse he fired a high, curling effort across goalkeeper Rian brown and into the net via the far post to open the scoring.
The match then ranged from end to end: Gibson again tricked his way into the Northern Ireland area, but saw his shot blocked; a lovely curling effort from Jack McFeeley would have equalised if it were not for a spectacular Russell save.
Lewis Tosh’s free kick was helped on by McFeeley, but narrowly over the crossbar – this free kick followed a booking for Scotland’s Rayan Mohammed for a push on Kelly near the touchline.
Scotland continued the trend, and again broke down the left hand side. Gibson’s centre made it all the way to the back post where Ben Lamont was on hand to squeeze the ball home to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
This was harsh on an enterprising Northern Ireland team, who combined well in the middle of the park through Millen, McFeeley, Wightman and the diminutive McStravick.
These men continued to give the visitors hope: Millen fed McStravick on the left side of the penalty area, but his shot flashed across the face of goal and behind for a goal kick; McStravick then danced down the left and his cut back was well defended by Binnie and a McFeeley snapshot was well saved by Russell. This pressure was sustained by Northern Ireland as the half-time whistle approached, but Scotland held on to their clean sheet until the break.
HALF TIME: SCOTLAND 2, NORTHERN IRELAND 0.
Northern Ireland would have known that a quick goal would haul them right back into the match. Aaron Wightman was the man who provided the finishing touch, as Tosh’s cross from the left eluded the grasp of Russell.
There then followed a period of play where each side struggled to gain the ascendancy. Northern Ireland tried valiantly to score an equaliser; Scotland knew that re-establishing their two-goal advantage would place them in the ‘box-seat’. Lewis Gibson, a thorn in the Ulstermen’s flesh all night, scored the crucial fourth goal of the match. He jinked from his right to his left, then back to his right, before providing a beautiful curling finish into the corner of the net.
Binnie made way late on for Harry Stephen, and his first involvement was to launch himself in to block as McGreevey looked certain to score. Northern Ireland did pull one back in injury time when Odhran McCart was left alone by the Scottish defence to nod home from a free kick,
Scotland held on to record a rare opening day inspiresport Centenary Shield win, before their challenging trip to Dublin to face the Republic of Ireland on St. Patrick’s day.
FULL TIME: SCOTLAND 3, NORTHERN IRELAND 2.
Scotland: Liam Russell, Gavin Hamilton, Jay Burns, John Binnie (Harry Stephen 79′), Matthew Strachan, Kenneth MacInness (c), Rayan mohammed (Lewis Lorimer 45′), Ben Lamont (Michael Beasley 45′), Lewis Gibson, Oliver Brander (Bailey Klimionek 75′), Lucas Stenhouse (Bridie Watt 89′). Subs not used: Matthew Wallace, Che Reilly.
Northern Ireland: Rian Brown, Ewan McCoubrey, Lewis Tosh, Aidran Kelly (c), Donal Scullion, Aaron Wightman, Ryan McKay, Liam McStravick, Jack McFeely, Caolan Millen. Subs used: Max Greer, Luca McGreevey, Jack Montgomery, Caolan Donnelly. Subs not used: Alex Henderson, Oscar McKenna, Patrick Kelly.