GORDON Strachan last night hailed the contribution of Shaun Maloney as Scotland claimed a 1-1 draw in Dublin to leave them five games unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying – their longest competitive run without a defeat for more than 13 years.
The Chicago Fire attacker was the architect of Scotland’s equaliser in a fraught encounter with the Republic of Ireland courtesy of a pot-shot from long range seconds after the restart that beat Shay Given by cannoning off John O’Shea on its way to goal.
‘He’s the most conscientious player I’ve ever come across’
Maloney has been the game-changing presence for Strachan’s side throughout their Group D campaign, where they now lie third, two points to the good of Martin O’Neill’s men but three off Poland. It was a drive by the 32-year-old that brought Scotland a winning start at home in the qualifiers when facing Georgia. He followed that up with a goal that helped his country claim a precious 2-2 draw in Poland before netting the only goal in the home defeat of the Republic and claiming a double in the 6-1 victory over Gibraltar.
The Scotland manager, who was served brilliantly by Maloney when in charge at Celtic, was in no doubt as to the forward’s integral role in the national team’s recent revitalisation. “All I know is for all the systems you can talk about, a very good player has got us a point,” Strachan said. “And a very good player, ten minutes from the end, no taller than me, is back in the right-back position heading the ball away from [James] McClean. He’s the most conscientious football player I’ve ever come across and he deserves every bit of praise he gets. If any young football player wants to watch anyone it’s him.”
Strachan declared himself “really pleased” with his team’s efforts over the season, wherein they have taken 11 points from the five games they have contested since the narrow loss away to Germany in their opening game. “You can only ask players to perform and they’ve performed,” he said.
However, there was little in the way of a performance in the first period at the Aviva last night, when the home side physically hustled them out of the contest as they claimed a lead. “We were far better in the second half,” Strachan admitted. “We couldn’t get our system working. Whether that was down to Ireland pressing, their physical strength, maybe it was our lack of match fitness.
“But there were seven or eight passes where you expect the players to pass to each other and they just gave it away, it goes down the pitch and you get a series of crosses. That just comes from missed passes and that’s still the thing we need to do. We had a look at it at half-time, moved a couple of people about, and never had a chance to see if it worked before Shaun scored the goal. I don’t know [if it’s a good point]. The circumstances were we were here to play a game in June at high intensity.
“I just thought it was a great occasion. That intensity in June is ridiculous from players who’ve played that amount of games. It’s phenomenal. I think the intensity comes from both teams desperate to win and also desperate not to lose when they’ve not got the ball. You just never know what points you’re going to need, though.”