RICKY SBRAGIA’S reign as Scotland Under-21 coach began with victory over ten-man Northern Ireland thanks to Ryan Fraser’s winning goal.
The young Scots controlled much of the game in Lurgan despite an uneasy start and scored their vital second goal shortly after Dale Gorman’s 58th-minute red card.
Sbragia declared himself delighted at winning the first European Under-21 Championship qualifier and praised the influence of the three Ryans – Fraser, Gauld and Christie. It was Christie who equalised Mikhail Kennedy’s opener before Gauld set up Fraser’s winner. The performances of the three young Scots offered a timely boost after after the senior team lost 1-0 in Georgia on Friday night.
“They were excellent,” said Sbragia. “They are really good players and their movement and combination play was good. They are all good players. I think there is a big future there. And the great thing is they play every week.
“Gauldy is exceptional, Christie has been fantastic with the way he has handled himself, he’s been great. We spoke to him this morning and asked him how he was and he was really up for it.”
Christie’s goal completed a memorable week following his deadline day transfer from Inverness to Celtic. “That just about caps off the perfect week for me,” said the player, who will remain on loan at the Highland club. “The start of it was pretty manic and hectic but on Thursday it settled down and I got my mind on the game. It’s great to play in this team. That formation really suits me.”
The finals in Poland in 2017 are some way off but Christie feels Scotland have the potential to go far. “That result can be a pick-me-up after the full side lost to Georgia. We’re already looking forward to meeting up for the next qualifiers in October. If we do well against France and Iceland at Pittodrie, we have a real chance of qualifying.”
Hibs midfielder John McGinn was captain whilst his club colleague Jason Cummings earned his debut at this level, as did Dundee United’s John Souttar.
Northern Ireland made a bright start and scored after just seven minutes. It was a move worthy of a higher profile than the humble surroundings of Mourneview Park.
Hamilton Academical defender Jamie Sendles-White clipped a perfect long pass in behind Callum Paterson to winger Michael Duffy, currently on loan at Alloa from Celtic. His pace beat Paterson to the ball for a low cross which Kennedy tapped in from close range.
The Scots struggled for space as the hosts pressed them aggressively. One tackle went literally over the top, Gorman fortunate not to see any card for a knee-high challenge on Gauld on 23 minutes.
The half-hour mark saw Scotland raise their tempo. After threatening twice in quick succession, they drew level on 33 minutes. Cummings’ bouncing through pass to Christie was dispatched convincingly past Brennan from 16 yards.
When Gorman was red carded on 58 minutes, Scotland sensed their chance. The Irish midfielder had been booked for a foul on Gauld on 51 minutes. When he tripped Cummings seven minutes later, a second yellow card and a red were inevitable.
It took just four minutes for Scotland to capitalise. They flooded forward from midfield and Gauld’s incisive run ended with a well-timed pass to Fraser on the run. He confidently stroked the ball into the net.