Scotland U21s: Ewan Urain intrigue and Rangers man on scoresheet but new look side fail to gel in defeat to Northern Ireland

There was no attempt from Scotland under-21 manager Scot Gemmill to put a sheen on his team’s 2-1 defeat by Northern Ireland in Dumbarton. That wasn’t possible when his new group so comprehensively failed to gel.

Glenn Middleton scores a penalty for Scotland U21s in the 2-1 defeat to Northern Ireland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

There was intrigue to see Ewan Urain in his first outing for the country the Spanish-born Atletico Bilbao striker qualifies for by dint of his Scottish mother Diane - and the bustling forward proved a handful in earning the home team a penalty following an octopus challenge from Kofi Palmer.

The 35th minute award was converted by captain Glenn Middleton, the Rangers winger demonstrating the assurance that deserted him in the Scottish Cup final success he helped his on-loan club St Johnstone earn the other week.

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There were other performers in the home ranks with decent senior exposure, notably Celtic centre-back Stephen Welsh. But they were less than the sum of their parts and Gemmill accepted the decision to deviate from the norm in sacrificing a midfielder to partner Kyle Joseph with Urain had made for a “struggle” and left them “insecure” protecting their own box. The manner the two goals were conceded either side of the Middleton penalty will have provided him food for thought ahead of the two sides’ return fixture at the same venue on Saturday - and beyond that the Euro 2023 qualifying tournament that sees Gemmill’s team away to Turkey on September for the first encounter in an invidious section alongside Belgium, Denmark and Kazakhstan.

Scotland were caught cold when Nottingham Forest forward Dale Taylor - the stand-out performer - nipped in ahead of Welsh to produce a deft finish from a delicious diagonal ball from the left flank provided by Aaron Donnelly.

Minutes before the interval, the visitors restored their lead when Tayor turned provider to exploit a gap that allowed Barry Baggley to neatly lift an effort over advancing keeper Cieran Slicker. Despite a late flurry from Scotland, Zak Rudden rattling the post with a header, the contest was not the one that Gemmill would have hope for. Not least in being Scotland’s re-emergence at this level following the defeat to Greece last November that denied a first major finals for the country’s under-21 since 1996.

“If you put the game in context it was very difficult for them as a few of the boys finished their season four weeks ago, others three weeks ago,” Gemmill said. “So it's difficult to get back up to speed. I don't think we played at the right intensity, which you could see. And it was a new group with new players and that was all visible from the performance unfortunately.”

Urain is one of those, but he did show promise. "He's joined the group and he doesn't know the players, myself or the staff. We just met up on Sunday,” said Gemmill. “I thought he did great and I am really looking forward to seeing what he can add to the squad."

Scotland: Slicker (Kinnear 66); Burroughs, Welsh, Deas, Harper (Bowie 86); Banks (Chalmers 66), Kelly, Erhahon (Clayton 66), Middleton; Joseph (Mackay 66), Urain (Rudden 77) Subs: Mair, Mayo, McPake, Williamson, MacGregor.

Northern Ireland: Mee; Scott (Hume 68), Finlayson, Balmer, Donnelly; Baggley (McCann 72), Palmer, Boyd-Munce, Stewart, Conn-Clarke (Johnson 68); Taylor (Smyth 72). Subs: Walsh, McClelland, Cousin-Dawson, Waide, Boyle.

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