Monday, April 22, 2024

Same again for O’Neill as Clarke demands response – Scotland v NI talking points

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 25 Mar 2024

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Scotland host Northern Ireland in a friendly at Hampden Park on Tuesday night.

Although Scotland are the side preparing for Euro 2024 after Northern Ireland missed out, the visitors might be in more confident mood after recent results.

Here the PA news agency looks at the key talking points ahead of the game.

Stopping the rot

Scotland flew out of the traps in their European Championship qualifying group by recording five wins out of five and sealed their place in Germany with two matches remaining. But momentum has stalled since then and Steve Clarke’s side have now gone six games without victory, conceding 18 goals during that spell. Opponents have included France, Spain, England and Netherlands but Clarke admitted victory was more important than performance ahead of the game as he tries to rekindle the feelgood factor. Scotland have not gone seven matches without a win for 19 years.

“More of the same”

Friday’s performance in Bucharest was another step forward for Michael O’Neill’s young side as Conor Bradley, Isaac Price, Trai Hume, Brodie Spencer and Shea Charles – all 22 or under – caught the eye in a confident display. Asked what he wanted to see in Glasgow this week, the first thing O’Neill said in Friday’s post-match press conference was “more of the same” and it was easy to see why. Northern Ireland looked well organised and contained Romania to only a handful of chances – a blueprint for more success in the future.

What might have been

In early 2018 O’Neill turned down an offer to become Scotland manager after holding talks with the Scottish Football Association about replacing Gordon Strachan. Having led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 two years earlier, O’Neill – who lives in Scotland – had considered the possibility of a change but opted to remain with Northern Ireland until taking the Stoke job in November 2019. Speaking about the decision on Monday, O’Neill said: “I’m not sure I would’ve been in the dugout, they might have moved me on. I think I was aware of the potential, I always knew Scotland had a good squad. In my head, I didn’t want to go into a job where I just wanted to try something else, that wouldn’t have been fair. It’s not in my nature to leave like that.”

Tweaking the plan

For three-quarters of Friday’s friendly in Amsterdam, Scotland performed as well in possession against Netherlands as they have done for several years in an away game against a top seed nation. But they failed to take one of their many chances, lost a goal from 25 yards, and then fell away in the latter stages to end up with a baffling 4-0 defeat. Clarke admits the scoreline has ensured he will make one less change to his starting line-up than he initially planned as he looks to steady the ship. Craig Gordon will be hoping to get a chance to play his way into the Euro 2024 squad following his return from a double leg break, his Hearts team-mate Lawrence Shankland will be desperate for another opportunity after missing a glorious chance in Amsterdam, while Lewis Ferguson will be hoping his impressive Serie A form gets him a starting place.

Will Reid start again?

Jamie Reid, 29, was the oldest player in Northern Ireland’s starting line-up on Friday but the Stevenage striker was nevertheless making his debut a full decade after the second of his two appearances for the under-21s. But he grabbed his chance with both hands as he put Northern Ireland in front just seven minutes in, full of running at the National Arena to spearhead an energetic attack. It capped a whirlwind few days for a player who thought his opportunity to play international football had gone, so will he get another chance on Tuesday?

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