Wednesday 13 November 2019

Strachan: Berra goal a major boost

Gordon Strachan's Scotland were 1-0 winners against Northern Ireland
Gordon Strachan's Scotland were 1-0 winners against Northern Ireland

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan felt Christophe Berra's late winner against Northern Ireland was a major boost ahead of their latest European Championship qualifier against Gibraltar.

Scotland dominated the Hampden friendly but were frustrated by Hamilton goalkeeper Michael McGovern until half-time substitute Berra headed home debutant Matt Ritchie's corner in the 85th minute.

Neither Craig Gordon nor Allan McGregor had a save to make in the Scotland goal and Strachan was delighted with the 1-0 win ahead of the visit of Gibraltar on Sunday.

"I thought it was important to win, really important," he said. "Just to make us feel good about ourselves. The performance at times was good as well, comfortable, brave on the ball, patient at times, getting used to the new pitch as well, it's a bit slick.

"It was really good to win and get a clean sheet because Northern Ireland have improved immensely over the past year, beating Hungary and Greece, and the Faroes."

The impressive Ikechi Anya had a number of efforts in the first half and also set up Steven Fletcher while Steven Naismith was a threat in the second period.

Strachan said: "I was really pleased with the way we started the game and the intensity we passed the ball with, and pleased with the number of chances we made and the way we made them.

"Then it kind of lulled in the last 15 minutes of the first half into a kind of friendly atmosphere. It kicked on again after half-time and died off again and came on again in the last 15 minutes.

"I'm pleased with the amount of chances we made and delighted with the number of chances they didn't get.

"They make it very hard, and the difference in this game is if you score early. But we kept plugging away and kept trying to do the right things. There were one or two things I would like do better but to win the game and get a clean sheet was good."

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill admitted Scotland had more depth to their squad after he gave a number of players their debuts and second caps.

But he claimed the goal only came about because he had to utilise his fringe players.

"I think there were more positives than negatives," said O'Neill, whose team host Finland in a qualifier on Sunday. "The first half it took us about 15 minutes to settle in and when we did have good possession it didn't really come to much, it petered out. We didn't get enough good balls or bodies in the box.

"But from a positive point of view we left a lot first-choice players out. There were seven or eight players on the bench that could start on Sunday.

"It was very positive to get Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes on the pitch together because they have not had much football with their clubs recently.

"And we basically end up with three under-21 players on the pitch in Paddy McNair, Ryan McLaughlin and Luke McCullough. They are just young boys in the infancy of their club careers.

"It possibly shows where we are at the moment. There is a lot more depth to the Scotland squad, but it was great for those lads to get an opportunity to play in this sort of game.

"I thought Stuart Dallas did very well and overall I'm pleased with everyone who played."

O'Neill added: "It was obviously disappointing to lose a goal, but when you make so many substitutions it makes set-pieces more difficult, because you are continually changing markers. I brought off players with bigger physical stature and in normal games I would have taken that into consideration."

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