IT may not have been particularly pretty. It could be argued it was a touch fortunate on the balance of chances. But Scotland showed they have grit to go with the guile they showed against Ukraine last week as they came out on top of a brutal battle against the Republic of Ireland at Hampden Park.
Irish skipper John Egan had silenced the national stadium – save for the delirious pocket of green tucked into one corner of the old bowl – by smashing home after Scotland had failed to properly clear from an Irish corner early on.
Jack Hendry stepped up to the plate at the start of the second period though to drag the Scots back into an absorbing contest, and Ryan Christie’s late penalty capped off the comeback to ensure the hosts got the win that sends them to Poland for the final game of this Nations League section in fine fettle.
Steve Clarke’s men are now in a fantastic position to secure a play-off spot for the European Championships and promotion to Group A. Avoid defeat against Ukraine, and those prizes are theirs.
And in the end, the Tartan Army got the party they craved to mark John McGinn’s 50th cap for his country, even if it came at something of a cost, with injuries to Kieran Tierney and Arron Hickey picked up along the way.
There was just one change to Steve Clarke’s line-up from the win over Ukraine on Wednesday, two-goal hero Lyndon Dykes stepping up from the bench and Che Adams given a rest with the trip to Poland in mind.
Ireland were pressing the Scots a lot higher than Ukraine did last Wednesday, but the hosts looked like they had the wherewithal to play through it early on, some lovely one-touch football sending Scott McTominay in down the left, but his cross was deflected into the arms of keeper Gavin Bazunu.
That was a fleeting example though, with the visitors doing well to stop the Scots building the play as they like to from the back.
The frustrations with the offside guidelines for assistants to hold their flag are well worn by now, but at least it was the Irish who were on the end of it as Troy Parrott burst through and hammered the ball high into Craig Gordon’s net only for the wild celebrations in the away end to eventually – and correctly – be brought to an end.
Ireland appeared buoyed nevertheless, and McTominay was robbed in midfield to give the impressive Michael Obafemi space to attack the area before feeding the ball for Parrott to get a strike away that Hendry blocked behind.
From the corner though, the visitors would take a deserved lead. James McClean’s corner was swung into the six-yard box, where Dykes got up to head to the edge of the area. Jayson Mulumby got up above a hesitant Callum McGregor to force the ball back into the area though, and the greater hunger of the Irish told as Egan punced on the loose ball to fire home low past Gordon.
The night was supposed to be all about McGinn, but a sclaffed effort on the volley from the stand-in skipper just before the half hour was the first time that he had posed anything resembling a threat to the Irish goal.
In fairness, he wasn’t alone. Scotland’s attacking players simply couldn’t get into the game. Christie had made the wrong decision moments earlier when passing in a good shooting position, while Stuart Armstrong had thrown in a couple of crosses but wasn’t getting into the same threatening positions he was against Ukraine.
There was a further blow for the Scots before the interval as Tierney went down in the area under a McGinn corner delivery, the Arsenal man seeming to be accidentally trampled by marker Parrott. It was enough to end his night, with Greg Taylor coming on to replace him.
Josh Cullen was walking a tightrope for the visitors, following up his booking for persistent fouling by scything down Hickey. He was fortunate to avoid a quickfire second yellow, to say the least, and it was something of a surprise that Irish manager Stephen Kenny didn’t withdraw him at the interval for his own good.
There were no changes made by Clarke at the break either, with the same players given the chance to rectify the situation, and it was the unlikeliest of men who grasped the thistle. Hendry came storming out of the defence to start an attack that he would finish, the ball eventually working its way to Christie on the right.
He dropped a shoulder to beat Matt Doherty all ends up, before clipping a beauty of a cross onto the head of Hendry, who had continued his run into the box, and he steered the ball home expertly in off the far post.
Suddenly it was Scotland who were first to every ball and swarming all over the visitors, but they were almost caught on the break as a poor ball from McGregor on the edge of the Irish box gave the visitors a glorious two on one opportunity to restore their lead.
With just Hickey for company, Obafemi sprung forward and fed strike partner Parrott to put him clean through on Gordon, but the Scotland keeper stood tall and made a huge save. Hickey was injured in the process of scampering back, so the second Scottish full-back of the night limped off, Anthony Ralston coming on in his place.
Ryan Fraser was also thrown on for Armstrong, and the winger provided a threat, getting a shot away that Bazunu had to touch behind. McGinn’s flicked header from his resultant corner was then scrambled clear from under the bar.
The Scots would get their opportunity to win it though, as another Fraser corner was headed on by McTominay and substitute Alan Browne handled to give away a clear penalty. Christie stepped up, sent Bazunu the wrong way, and Hampden went berserk.
By hook, or by crook, the Scots had done it. Now they have to finish the job.