Scotland 1-0 Northern Ireland: Berra heads home late winner
Image credit: @ScottishFA Twitter

Northern Ireland made the short trip across the Irish Sea to take on their Celtic counterparts, Scotland, on Wednesday evening. What was built up to be a feisty affair lacked any bite. Michael O'Neill's men offered little in attack and they were beaten by a late Christophe Berra header, stretching their run without a friendly win to 22 games.

There were no real surprises in either starting line-up, with Gordon Strachan fielding a very strong Scottish side. As expected Matt Richie of AFC Bournemouth was handed his Scotland debut, a reward for his impressive performances this season.

Northern Ireland and Michael O'Neill were keen to test out many new faces, with the likes of Will Grigg and Stuart Dallas in the starting line-up. However, the vastly experienced Aaron Hughes was handed a start and earned his nintey-five cap for the Green and White Army. That was a stark contrast to Manchester United's Paddy McNair. The youngster started alongside the veteran defender, earning his first cap in the process.

McNair was at right-back and was enduring plenty of early pressure from the lightning quick Ikechi Anya. The Watford winger got in behind the United defender and cut back towards Steven Fletcher, but he was brilliantly denied from just a few yards out by Michael McGovern's strong right hand.

Scotland were dominating the early exchanges and the second of two Shaun Maloney set-pieces eventually found it's way to Anya. He produced another good save from McGovern, who turned the wide-man's drive smartly to the side.

The visitors were finally beginning to find their feet but a poor pass let Scotland in again and Anya fired just wide from twenty-yards. Sloppy passing plagued any chances of Northern Ireland working the ball forward, Maloney and Steven Fletcher both wasted great opportunities to open the scoring.

A 2,000 strong pocket of travelling fans were making plenty of noise, although the action on the pitch was far from awe-inspiring. While Anya was proving a threat, his and Ritchie's crosses were constantly failing to find Steven Fletcher. Maloney did find the Scotland striker with a through-ball, however McGovern raced out to deny him and keep the scores level at half-time.

Northern Ireland remained unchanging going into the second half, while the hosts made three changes at the break. He brought on Steven Naismith, Allan McGregor and Christophe Berra for Maloney, Craig Gordon and Russel Martin, respectively. The Everton man nearly made an instant impact, but his header flew just over McGovern's bar.

It wasn't long until O'Neill made some alterations of his own, as Lee Hodson and Paddy McCourt replaced Chris Baird and Will Grigg. The tempo had dropped, even for Scotland, into the second period and chances were few and far between. Jordan Rhodes (Steven Fletcher) and James Morrison (James McArthur) also made appearances, with Josh Magennis firing wide after a quick break.

Ryan McLaughlin came on for his senior debut in the second half along with captain Steve Davis. Substitutions were a more regular occurrence than chances at this stage, although Scotland failed to make the most of a series of corner kicks. Naismith, again strong in the air, had a bullet header well held by the steady McGovern.

Johnny Russell and Luke McCullough were the final changes for both sides with the latter replacing Jonny Evans, who had completed his first minutes in a Northern Ireland shirt in 16 months. A flurry of late corners were all Green and White Army could muster, though Scotland finally took one of their set-piece chances.

Matt Richie swung in a delightful delivery that was met by the powerful run of Christophe Berra. There was nothing McGovern could do this time around, as the Ipswich Town defender wheeled away to celebrate his third international goal and the game's winning goal.

Both sides won't be terribly bothered with the result, knowing that the real work is at the weekend. Scotland return to Hampden Park to face Gibraltar, while Northern Ireland host Finland in two crucial qualifying fixtures.

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