Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It may have only been against a pretty depleted Northern Ireland squad, but Scotland made a tremendous start to their 2011 Celtic Nations Cup campaign at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin this evening.

They ran out 3 - 0 winners, and it was the performance as much as the result that's boosted the spirits of the Tartan Army.

The first half in particular was one of the best from a Scottish international side for many a year. Two goals and a slew of close calls, including a penalty that should have been awarded. Good stuff.

The second half fizzled out a little, but it was job done by then, as Scotland recorded their first win over Northern Ireland in 19 years.

There were a number of fine individual performances too.

Kris Commons looked sharp and now that he's moved to Celtic, I think we'll see his international career flourish. We could finally have the attacking threat we've been badly needing for the last few years.

Sunderland's Phil Bardsley had a strong, attacking first half and James McArthur's goal was a peach. Clearly meant as a cross, his chip into the top left hand corner of the Irish net was as deft a touch as you'll see. "The proverbial postage stamp", Sky commentator Bill Leslie proclaimed. I'd hate to see the state of the letters he addresses then.

We've not been a huge fan of Kenny Miller in the past but we have to fully commend him tonight. As captain, he led by example. Making the trip over from Turkey also impressed. Would he have made the trip had he still been at Ibrox?

With most of the Scotland starting eleven coming from players plying their trade in the English Premiership and most the Northern Irish ones bizarrely coming from the Scottish one, the gulf in class was very clear. Pretty much like the gulf in the two Leagues themselves.

Having this strong weekly competition for the players is what we've been missing for a while now. For too long, our top players have been in just the SPL and the Championship. This move up in class can only help the national side and it's already showing.

We've been critical of Craig Levein's reign so far. Obviously if we're being honest, the fact he's a Cowden wanker will always have something to do with that. You can't take too much from tonight's game due to the threadbare nature of the opposition but we've struggled against similar quality very recently. The signs are there though that he's starting to stamp his style on the squad and the players are responding. It's nice to see us playing a passing game, even though it was pissing down throughout. The players are starting the gel and seem like they actually care about playing for the jersey. All we can ask is that they give all they've got for the navy blue.

We don't want to get carried away but we've had so little to cheer about in recent years, that we'll take any crumb we can and build the best damn sandwich out of it.

There may have only been a crowd of 18,742, a little less than last night's game between the Republic of Ireland hosts and Wales, but the atmosphere was way better.

The travelling Tartan Army was in full voice and it was great to have the banter between the two sets of fans. "You can stick your Union Jack up your arse" indeed. Sad bastards that they are. It's been missing for a long time in a competitive match.

You can argue that the Nations Cup is just glorified friendlies, but whenever you have the four Celtic nations together in anything, it's going to be competitive.

Joint top of the league though and looking forward to the remaining two games in May. C'mon.

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