Ireland with a first half showing that was as good as any produced by any schoolboy side laid the foundation for their 2-1 victory over a good Scotland side.
Ireland controlled the first half of this game and deservedly went in two goals ahead both scored by former Home Farm player Ian Daly who\now plies his trade with Manchester City.
Daly struck his first goal after five minutes and doubled Ireland’s advantage on 39 minutes. Ireland’s lead was cut when Scotland made it 2-1 after 58 minutes but Sean McCaffrey’s side closed out the game to secure a vital three points.
Ireland need to finish top of their four-nation group to qualify for May’s European Championship Finals, to be staged in Belgium. They are aiming to be the first Irish team to reach the finals since 2000.
Ireland started the game brightly by creating a series of chances and could have gone ahead inside the first two minutes.
Shane O’Connor’s corner found Gareth Matthews at the back post and when his header across the goal fell kindly for David Joyce, the Ireland captain nodded wide from six yards out.
Liverpool winger O’Connor continued to cause a threat and another of his purposeful runs led to Ireland taking the lead after five minutes. Conor McCormack’s powerful shot was blocked by the Scots goalkeeper only into the path of O’Connor, who squared the ball invitingly for Ian Daly to slot home.
More first-half opportunities for Ireland fell to Daly, Kurtis Byrne and Laurence Gaughan but Daly was clinical in netting his second goal a minute before the interval.
Shane O’Connor floated a free-kick into the penalty area which the Scottish defence struggled to clear properly. When Kurtis Byrne flicked the ball back into the box, Daly pounced to rifle a volley low into the bottom corner of the net.
Such was their dominanace a fourl goal half time lead would not have been unthinkabale.
A shower during the break led to the wind rising considerably in favour of Scotland which they gleefully took to their advantage.
Scotland pressed for a reply early in the second half and their incessant possession resulted in Glasgow Celtic striker Carlo Monti applying a neat header past Irish ‘keeper Thorp after 58 minutes to provide them with some hope of salvaging a point.
It was the first goal conceded by the Crystal Palace keeper in his six internationals this season. Despite Scotlands possession they never eeally tested Thorpe in the Irish goal. A great defensive game marshalled by Joyce along with Nolan, Gaughan and Matthews (and Bruce when he replaced the injured Matthews) ensured that the Irish goal remained intact.
The Irish might have put the game beyond Scotland on a couple of occasions in the latter stages when they broke away on counter-attacks. Sean Scannell found himself free on goal on the stroke of full-time but his attempted pass to fellow substitute Craig Duggan was intercepted just as the Kilreen attacker was primed to convert from close range.
Ireland were deserved winners and march on towards Friday’s clash against Greece with optimism. The midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Conor McCormack were magnificent and manager Sean McCaffrey was swift to heap praise on the character shown by his players.
“We hoped to get off to a good start in the group against Scotland and I thought the team played excellently from start to finish.
“The tempo at which we began the game gave Scotland an indication of how badly our lads wanted to win. I always felt we would take full points if we capitalised on that good spell with goals.”
He added: “Germany are still favourites to win the group. I watched them beat Greece 4-1 today and they looked strong. That said, we won’t be worrying about them for now. We need to concentrate on producing another good display against Greece on Friday and we’ll think about the Germany match afterwards.”
Mini-group hosts Germany defeated Greece 4-1 in the other group game played earlier today.
Ireland’s next opponents are Greece on Friday in Schuttorf (kick-off 15.00 hrs) before they take on Germany in the final group match, scheduled for next Monday in Nordhorn (kick-off 18.00 hrs).
Republic of Ireland: Kieron Thorp - Crystal Palace, Gareth Matthews - Norwich City, Mark Nolan - Glasgow Celtic, David Joyce - Birmingham City, Laurence Gaughan – Liverpool, Kurtis Byrne - Norwich City, Shane O’Connor - Liverpool, Conor McCormack - Manchester United, James McCarthy - Hamilton Academicals, Michael Collins – Liverpool, Ian Daly - Manchester City.
SUBS: Craig Duggan - Kilreen Celtic for Collins (57 mins), Anthony Bruce - West Bromwich Albion for Matthews (66 mins) Sean Scannell - Crystal Palace for Daly (76 mins).