Scotland opened their 2016 Victory Shield campaign with a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland thanks to goals either side of half time from Taylor Wilson and Zac Butterworth
The hosts were in control for most of the game and took the lead in the 19th minute thanks to defender Wilson’s finish from a deep cross.
They didn’t extend their lead until the 74th minute however, and substitute Butterworth’s strike offered some Scotland some breathing space after they had largely spent the final quarter of the match on the back foot.
This was an impressive performance from the Scots and their play was often dictated by their centre midfield pairing of Billy Gilmour and Harry Cochrane. The duo passed the ball quickly and were aggressive both on the ball and in the tackle.
They were the architects of most of their side’s chances in the first half and it was Scotland that had the first chance of the game.
After a sustained period of possession, Gilmour fed the ball into the feet of Anthony McDonald, who turned and accelerated forwards before releasing Jamie Semple on the left.
Semple took a touch before cutting onto his right foot and firing a strong shot that was well saved by keeper Tiernan Parker.
Northern Ireland were looking dangerous on the break and won a free kick in a promising position after springing forward from a defensive clearance. Jordon McEneff’s delivery from the left was excellent and Scotland striker Marc Leonard was perhaps fortunate that his flicked header flashed wide of the post, rather than ending up in his own net.
Next, Northern Ireland striker Conner Farrelly got on the end of a ball over the top. He collected the pass and paused, before slipping in Ben Wilson. Fortunately for Scotland, Luis Binks was on hand to slide in and block his shot.
Scotland, though, were looking the more assertive side and in the 19th minute they took the lead. From a corner, holding midfielder Dean Campbell received the ball in a deep position. Spotting the run of Wilson, Campbell then looked up and played a floating, diagonal ball over the top. The ball dropped on the six yard box and it was met by Wilson who slid in to open the scoring.
Gilmour and Cochrane were bossing the midfield and were making life difficult for their counterparts. After winning the ball back again in the middle of the pitch, Gilmour then played a reverse ball to find Anthony McDonald, who was breaking forward at pace. McDonald’s shot was low and Parker did well to get down to keep his side in the game.
With half-time approaching, Scotland had another chance to double their lead. Captain Chris Hamilton, who threatened from right back throughout the first half, skipped past his man and got to the byline before clipping a cross into the box. The cross found Gilmour but his downward header was blocked on the line.
The pace of the match dropped in the second half and Northern Ireland started to grow into the game but aside from a Ben Wilson header that drifted wide of the post, they were failing to turn their possession into chances.
Scotland manager Brian McLaughlin removed Cochrane midway through the half as Scotland attempted to sure up the midfield. Replacement Ethan Erhahon’s presence in the midfield did exactly that, but as Scotland dropped deeper they started to invite pressure on their goal.
At the heart of the defence, Binks and Taylor Wilson made countless clearances but, in truth, Scotland goalkeeper Ryan Mullen was rarely called upon.
Still, a second Scotland goal would’ve released the pressure and with ten minutes to go , Taylor Wilson had a great opportunity to double his tally. Again, Wilson found himself in a good position six yards from goal. This time the ball came from a Gilmour free kick, which was curled precisely into the area, but Wilson couldn’t keep his half volley down and his shot blazed over the bar.
It didn’t matter too much though as four minutes later substitute Butterworth scored to clinch the win. With Northern Ireland pushing for an equaliser, McDonald received the ball on the half turn, before driving forward into the opposition half. Butterworth was making a run on the left and McDonald’s ball was perfectly weighted into his path. Butterworth took the ball on his right and, whilst holding off a defender, poked a right footed finish into the opposite corner.
Scotland could now breathe a sigh a relief. The hard work was done and their victory was confirmed when the referee blew the final whistle five minutes later. The hosts will now play Wales on Tuesday.