Berra’s header sees off NI

Date published: Thursday 1st January 1970 12:00 -

Berra's header sees off NI

Visiting keeper Michael McGovern made several saves in the first half to keep an enterprising home side at bay, most notably from Steven Fletcher and Ikechi Anya.
The Scots also had the best of a second half which was punctuated with substitutions but it looked like ending in a stalemate until the 85th minute when the Ipswich defender, these days down the pecking order but who had replaced Russell Martin, headed in a corner from debutant Matt Ritchie.
It was a decent performance from the Scots as they turn their attention to their 2016 Euro qualifier against Gibraltar at the national stadium on Sunday although Gordon Strachan will be looking for his side to be more incisive in front of goal.
Michael O’Neill’s team were rather insipid but they will be glad of the work-out ahead of their Group F qualifier at home to Finland on Sunday.
Strachan, as promised, utilised his squad with Ritchie handed his debut.
The English-born Bournemouth right winger, who qualifies through his father Alex, was drafted into the squad for the first time this week and was asked to support main striker Fletcher with Anya on the other flank.
Derby defender Craig Forsyth made his first start as Celtic’s Craig Gordon was given the nod in goal and West Brom midfielder Darren Fletcher took the armband.
Manchester United’s Paddy McNair was given his debut and the 19-year-old teamed up in defence at right-back with Old Trafford team mate Jonny Evans who captained the visitors.
And both players had their hands full as Scotland started with purpose.
In the fourth minute McGovern, making his second appearance for the visitors, denied Fletcher with a fine save, after the Sunderland striker had been set up by Anya.
The Watford wide-man then tested McGovern with a low drive which was turned round the post for a well-worked corner which finished with James McArthur driving high over from 20 yards.
A subdued Northern Ireland side created a decent chance in the 13th minute when Josh Magennis headed a raking Evans pass into the path of the unmarked Oliver Norwood but the Reading midfielder slashed his shot over the bar.
Anya had another long-distance drive which sped past the post and his third attempt in the 22nd minute was also off-target, after he had been played in by McArthur following a break.
Midfielder Shaun Maloney was the next to fire over the bar after the increasingly confident Anya laid the ball into the path.
The Scots kept huffing and puffing and in the final minute McGovern again blocked Fletcher after he had been put through by Maloney.
As expected, Strachan made interval substitutions with Gordon, stopper Martin and Maloney being replaced by Allan McGregor, Berra and Steven Naismith.
The latter came close within five minutes with a near-post header from a Forsyth cross from the bye-line following a Fletcher pass.
The home side jauntily continued on their quest for the goal their performance deserved.
Just before the hour-mark the Irish replaced Chris Baird and Will Grigg with Lee Hodson and Paddy McCourt and the match, understandably, began to fragment as more substitutions followed.
Ritchie drove wide with an effort from distance and McGovern made another save, this time from a Naismith header.
But with five minutes remaining the Hamilton keeper was eventually beaten as Berra got his head to a Ritchie corner, sending the ball in at the near post.

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