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Occasion may have got the better of McGeady and others as luck runs out for O'Neill

Ireland were second best throughout the 90 minutes in tonight’s Euro 2016 qualifier.

Ireland fans in full voice at Celtic Park.
Ireland fans in full voice at Celtic Park.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

by Ben Blake reporting from Celtic Park, Glasgow

THERE WERE NO late heroics from Ireland at Celtic Park tonight as they were outplayed and outscored by their hosts Scotland.

Martin O’Neill’s unbeaten competitive record was brought to an end as they were unable to replicate the spirited finales which produced late goals in this campaign against Georgia and Germany.

The talk all week revolved around the reception James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady would get and whether the former would even be fit to play. As it turned out, McCarthy didn’t make it — leaving the boo boys to focus on ex-Celtic winger McGeady. His every touch was met with a round of jeers and whistles, which in turn prompted Ireland fans to chant his name repeatedly.

The abuse continued throughout and the Everton man, possibly a little caught up by the occasion, earned himself a booking after just 15 minutes. In truth, McGeady and a number of his team-mates never really showed what they are capable of on a disappointing night.

O’Neill sprung a major surprise with his team selection in demoting captain, all-time record caps holder and top scorer Robbie Keane to the bench. It’s that rare an event that you have to go as far back as June 2001 to find the last time the striker was fit and dropped from a competitive international. Damien Duff was preferred to the then 21-year-old away to Estonia that night.

In a call which shows the current manager isn’t afraid to make brave decisions, Shane Long was brought in to partner Stoke City’s Jon Walters as part of a new look front line.

Hindsight is a great thing but while the rest of the team were bunched around the halfway line, Walters had broken off to walk a lap of the pitch. One of the Irish journalists next to me had suggested he had been told he wasn’t starting. It turned out to be the opposite.

Alongside him, Shane Long, who is bang in form at club level after a difficult start to life on the South Coast, was favoured over Keane despite not featuring at all against Gibraltar and Germany.

If anyone needed proof that the Boys in Green had travelled in their droves, you only had to take a wander around Glasgow’s west end last night. Some of those visiting supporters took up their seats early, not only in the allocated away section, but also among the Tartan Army dotted around the other stands.

While heavy queues prevented many from making kick-off, others got in to soak up the atmosphere and with 25 minutes to kick-off, the first rendition of ‘Come on you Boys in Green’ rang around the ground. By 7.45pm, Celtic Park was hopping thanks to both sets of supporters, who seemed determined to outdo each other.

In fact, visiting supporters were so up for a sing-song that many decided to take part in the Scottish anthem Flowers of Scotland.

Aiden McGeady with Ikechi Anya Aiden McGeady had a night to forget. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The football itself was far from pleasing on the eye and the opening 15 minutes were played at a frantic pace which led to plenty of misplaced passes and mistimed tackles.

The Stevens, Fletcher and Naismith, had been earmarked as danger men pre-match and the pair, along with Shaun Maloney, created the best passages of play for Gordon Strachan’s men.

As the game progressed, the home crowd grew in voice as their team grew in confidence and O’Neill will have been pleased that it was still scoreless at half-time.

Ireland continued to ride their luck when Chris Martin came close before Robbie Brady and Stephen Quinn were sent on to shore up the midfield, which was being completely overrun at that point.

It didn’t prove successful as Maloney curled a shot past Forde to earn the Tartan Army a deserved victory.

Not even the introduction of Keane could create a genuine goalscoring opportunity and had Grant Hanley’s late header which came off his own crossbar it would have been cruel on Scotland.

A draw would was always going to be a reasonable result but defeat means Ireland, Scotland and Germany will all end 2014 level on seven points with Poland a further three ahead.

Still all to play for then.

RTE panel on Robbie Keane’s omission: ‘A big call but the right call’

‘We were just happy to get tickets’ – Ireland fans soak up the atmosphere in Glasgow

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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