GORDON Strachan believes Scotland’s victory over Northern Ireland last night was crucial to the mindset of his players ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Gibraltar.
Christophe Berra scored the only goal of a low-key friendly against Michael O’Neill’s side at Hampden with just five minutes remaining.
Scotland manager Strachan insists the significance of the result should not be underestimated as his team look to strengthen their bid to reach next year’s Euro finals in France when they resume their campaign against Group D minnows Gibraltar.
“I thought it was important to win this game, just to make us feel good about ourselves,” said Strachan.
“The performance was good at times and we also got used to the new pitch at Hampden which is a bit slick.
“The first half hour was good for a friendly. We had a good attitude. I was pleased with the number of chances we made and the way we made them.
“Then it kind of lulled in last 15 minutes of the first half into a friendly atmosphere. We kicked on for the first 10 minutes of the second half, then it died again, then we came good in the last 15.
“I’m delighted with the number of chances we made and the number that Northern Ireland didn’t make.
“They made it hard for us. It’s different in this game if you can score early, but we kept plugging away and trying to do the right things.
“There are one or two things I’d like us to do better but I was delighted to win the game and get a clean sheet.
“I got what I expected from the players. Some played better than others, that happens. I have a system in mind for Sunday. We’ll have a look at it now.
“It does bring a pressure when people expect us to win easily against Gibraltar but we go into it feeling good about ourselves. Every game you play, you go into it thinking the other team is going to score, no matter who they are. It is a different challenge from Germany, but it’s still a challenge.”
Strachan was content with the display of Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie who provided the assist for Berra’s goal on his debut.
“Matt got better as the game went on, got more of the ball and was more comfortable,” said Strachan.
“He’s tidy in everything he does. That’s a big thing in international football, not to give ball away. He can be pleased with his debut – it was far better than mine against Northern Ireland in 1980, that’s for sure!”
Northern Ireland manager O’Neill tempered his disappointment at losing the match to a late goal with contentment at how his much-changed line-up had performed overall against a Scotland side he feels will make it to next year’s finals in France.
“I thought we were going to get a draw, or maybe even nick one ourselves near the end,” said O’Neill.
“But it’s hard when you make so many substitutions, as both teams did tonight. In a normal game, I wouldn’t have done that. Under normal circumstances, we probably wouldn’t have lost the goal we did at a set piece. It was tough on Michael McGovern who had a terrific game in goal for us.
“I was impressed by Scotland. They moved the ball well and have power throughout their team. I don’t anticipate Gibraltar will give them any problems on Sunday. I think Scotland are in a really good position to qualify for Euro 2016.
“There are more positives than negatives for us tonight. It took us 15 minutes to settle in but then we had a decent period. Whenever we had good possession, though, it petered out.
“We left a lot of our players out tonight with our qualifier against Finland on Sunday in mind. We ended up with three under-21s on the pitch. It shows us where we are with our squad. There is more depth to the Scotland squad at this moment.”
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