Scorers: Miller (19), McArthur (32), Commons (51) Referee: T Connolly (Eire) Attendance: 18,742
THE preamble was all about the dawning of a new era. Scotland manager Craig Levein wanted his charges to shrug off the reputation for simply stifling play and instead show the verve needed to carve open defences and make a positive impression.
They did as he asked. Not only did they score away from home for the first time since 2008, winning 3-0 to get their Carling Nations Cup off to a flying start, they did it with a combination of hard work, silkiness and swagger. And still kept a clean sheet.
It is just over four months since the Scotland manager fielded a team minus a recognised striker against the Czech Republic, but such has been the players' evolvement in that time that he now has a far more pleasing blueprint. Scotland had gone into the match with plenty of optimism despite the glut of injury enforced call-offs. Captain Darren Fletcher, Gary Caldwell, Lee McCulloch and Graham Dorrans were the first omissions, then, as the rest of the squad flew out to Dublin, goalkeeper Craig Gordon was allowed to head home to nurse a knee injury.
Levein, who is hellbent on winning this tournament, had remained unperturbed, confident that he could still field a side capable of taking the game to a Nothern Ireland side which included five SPL players in their starting line-up.
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But the big news before kick-off was that Celtic captain Scott Brown, who had already been named in the official team lines, had been withdrawn after aggravating a groin strain sustained in last weekend's Old Firm match. The news that he was being replaced by Wigan's James McArthur was greeted with cheers from the opposition support. Those jeers were thrown back at them tenfold when the national anthems got underway, the locals and the Scots combining in an attempt to drown out God Save the Queen with boos. It dissipated any notion that this was the friendly it had been billed as.
It was a test for Scotland, though. While they were expected to get the better of Nigel Worthington's side, it was the manner and tone of the victory that intrigued onlookers. This, after all, was being hailed as the dawn of a new and more positive era for the national side under Levein. The gaffer has been criticised for team selection and the unadventurous and unappealing nature of his tactics in the past but there was a more inventive vibe to the team he sent out for the start of this match. Opportunities fell to Kris Commons and stand-in captain Kenny Miller in the opening stages, with the movement of the midfield and their interaction with the full-backs all ensuring that the Bursaspor striker was not to isolated. Northern Ireland did force a save from Allan McGregor in the ninth minute when Niall McGinn had a punt at goal but there was little in their performance to really trouble the Scots as they settled into the play.
As the Ulstermen sat deeper and deeper, Scotland needed no further invitation to apply all the pressure. It paid off in the 19th minute when Miller scored to ensure his night was definitely one to savour. A corner swung in by Charlie Adam was nodded on by Phil Barsley at the near post, bounced off Aberdeen's Rory McArdle and although Motherwell's Stephen Craigan made a desperate lunge to clear on the line, Miller reacted fastest, banging the ball into the net.
It was an uncommon occurance, viewing a Scotland goal away from home. They haven't scored on their travels during Levein's tenure and it's actually more than two years since they netted away from home, in their 2-1 victory over Iceland in September 2008.
Commons is the only remanent of that team and only one of the four constants from the most recent Scotland performance against the Faroe Islands in Aberdeen, in November.
But, despite the mass changes, Scotland looked totally in command as the half played out. Steven Caldwell's header soared just over in the 23rd minute, before Bardsley and James Morrison combined two minutes later to play in Commons, whose shot was blocked by Gareth McAuley.
But there was another breakthrough and it came courtesy of a lovely show of audacity from McArthur. Making the most of the luck which saw him on the pitch at all, he clipped an exacting chip over keeper Jonny Tuffey and into his net.
Bardsley attempted a delightful piece of symmetry trying a similar shot coming in from the opposite flank but this time the keeper got a hand to it to steer it away. But Scotland were working well as a unit and showing the energy and the creativity wanted by their manager, with Nothern Ireland short on any kind of comeback.
They made a half-hearted attempt to alter that at the beginning of the second half when Rory Patterson rolled in a low drive which McGregor had to get down for but it was an isolated incident which ultimately lacked the poise and penetration of their Scottish counterparts.
That was epitomised in the third goal, a wonderful effort which saw the Scots sweep forward with some great interplay, willing running and accurate passing. Adam in the heart of the pitch picked out Morrison and he slid the pass to Steven Naismith, who was cutting in from his wide position and the Rangers midfielder threaded the ball into the path of a grateful and clinical Commons to complete the move.
The game was won by then but Levein's men were keen to lay down a marker in this tournament. The Republic of Ireland's opening salvo on Tuesday night had been a 3-0 win over Wales and the Scots wanted to better that scoreline, while still accomodating a series of substitutions. Barry Bannan, Craig Conway and Danny Wilson came on for their second caps while there were debuts for Mark Wilson, Robert Snodgrass and Chris Maguire. And they underlined Levein's belief that there is strength in depth by maintaining the forward momentum. The Celtic full-back hit the post as he tried to add to the goal tally soon after entering the fray, a Bannan free-kick forced a great save from Tuffey in the 79th minute and then Conway curled his 80th-minute effort just wide of the post. It was all very comfortable.
Even when Patterson managed to direct a header on target, with McGregor getting down to take it confidently.
They say that positivity breeds positivity. Last night there was plenty of it on the pitch and given this display, there is justifiable grounds for more of it off it as well.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Steven Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley, Morrison, Adam, Commons, McArthur, Naismith, Miller. Subs: Bell, Danny Wilson, Bannan, Mark Wilson, Conway, Hanley, Maguire, Snodgrass, Gary Caldwell.
Northern Ireland: Tuffey, McArdle, Baird, McAuley, Craigan, McCourt, Evans, Davis, McCann, McGinn, Patterson. Subs: Blayney, Hodson, Thompson, Healy, Boyce, Norwood.