Scotland boosted their Euro 2016 qualification hopes and simultaneously dealt another blow to the Republic of Ireland’s chances by holding their hosts to a 1-1 draw in Dublin.
Gordon Strachan’s team won the first Group D meeting between the teams last November and headed to the Irish capital with a two-point advantage over their opponents.
That meant Ireland had a pressing need to claim the victory, and they led at the break when Jon Walters converted from close range amid strong suspicions of offside.
Scotland levelled within two minutes of the restart when Chicago Fire midfielder Shaun Maloney – who had netted the winner when the teams met in Glasgow – beat Shay Given thanks to a decisive deflection off John O’Shea.
Assuming Germany complete the formality of victory over minnows Gibraltar later on Saturday, Scotland will finish the sixth round of fixtures in the play-off place on 11 points as they seek to end their long wait for another appearance at a major tournament.
Derby left-back Craig Forsyth and Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie were surprise inclusions for Scotland, as Andrew Robertson and Ikechi Anya started on the bench.
Ireland’s all-time top scorer Robbie Keane was also among the substitutes following the death of two of his cousins in an accident in Ireland this week.
Alan and Stephen Harris were remembered in a moment’s applause before kick-off, alongside sports presenter Bill O’Herlihy and former Ireland international Johnny Fulham.
Ireland showed plenty of intent during the opening stages but Scotland settled, with Maloney catching the eye, and visiting striker Steven Fletcher had a 10th-minute drive tipped over by Given.
Clear chances were few and far between, despite a frenetic pace to the contest, and there was controversy after half-an-hour when Ireland’s James McCarthy was only booked for catching Russell Martin with an elbow that left the defender with a bloodied nose.
The hosts found the breakthrough in the 38th minute. Daryl Murphy, making a first competitive international start in attack, had a looping header touched over by David Marshall and Walters pounced when the goalkeeper denied the same player from the resulting corner.
Scotland struggled under another Robbie Brady set-piece delivery on the stroke of half-time but Murphy could not prod the ball home this time.
Anya replaced Ritchie at half-time and had an instant impact, playing a clever one-two with Maloney for his team-mate to find the far corner, via a big deflection off the unfortunate O’Shea.
Ireland looked to hit back immediately when Wes Hoolahan’s perfectly weighted throughball found Murphy, who forced Marshall to save with his feet.
Given scrambled to claw away a chipped attempt from the impressive Anya, while Murphy could not direct a 72nd-minute header goalwards.
That miss heralded the introduction of Keane for Hoolahan but Ireland’s talisman was unable to provide the rousing finale his manager Martin O’Neill desperately needed.
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