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Scotland return to the top of their UEFA Nations League table with 2-1 comeback victory against Republic of Ireland

Scotland's Jack Hendry scores to make it 1-1 against Republic of Ireland.
Scotland's Jack Hendry scores to make it 1-1 against Republic of Ireland.

Scotland are closing in on the multiple riches that come with winning their Nations League group.

The battling Scots fought back from a goal behind to overcome Republic of Ireland 2-1 at a raucous Hampden.

It was a victory that elevated the Scots to the top of Group B1 with just one game remaining, away to second placed Ukraine on Tuesday.

Scotland just have to avoid defeat against war-torn Ukrainians in neutral Krakow, Poland, to win the group.

The rewards are many… and so close.

Scotland gained revenge for a disastrous 3-0 defeat to the Irish in Dublin in June that raised questions about the continued progression of this squad.

After back to back wins, against Ukraine (3-0) and the Irish, Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad look to be moving forward again.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke celebrates his side making it 1-1 against Republic of Ireland.

This was far from vintage Scotland who struggled to cope with the ferocity of the Irish at times but they ground out the vital win.

The many rewards for group winners

Anyone denigrating the significance of the once maligned UEFA Nations League should look at the rewards it offers.

Should Scotland win the group on Tuesday they will be elevated into pot two for the Euro 2024 draw in Frankfurt on October 9.

That would represent a clear path of improvement. Scotland were in pot four for the 2016 Euro qualification draw and pot three for Euro 2020.

Scotland’s Ryan Christie converts a penalty to make it 2-1

Topping the group also guarantees a place in the Euro 2024 play-offs should the Scots fail to qualify via the traditional route.

That is the route Scotland used to qualify for Euro 2020.

If UEFA had not introduced this innovation the Scots would still be deep into a major tournament exodus dating back to 1998.

As if those are not rich enough rewards winning the group would also elevate up into League A with the European elite.

All of that makes the match against Ukraine one of immense significance.

Avoid defeat to Ukraine to win group

Scotland blew it against Ukraine in June when the stakes were high by losing the World Cup play-off semi-final 3-1 at Hampden.

Tuesday offers an opportunity for redemption. They must not blow it again.

There were two changes to the starting XI that overwhelmed Ukraine 3-0 at Hampden on Wednesday.

One was enforced with right-back Nathan Patterson ruled out having been stretchered off in the first half against Ukraine.

Aaron Hickey replaced him in the starting line-up.

Kieran Tierney is forced off injured with a head knock.

In the other change, striker Lyndon Dykes, who came off the bench to net twice against Ukraine, replaced Che Adams.

The defeat of Ukraine was the first time since November 2019 that manager Clarke had deviated from a back three, opting to go with a flat four.

He retained faith with a back four against Republic of Ireland.

Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn earned his 50th cap as he captained the Scots in the absence of injured skipper Andy Robertson.

The Scotland team line up before the UEFA Nations League clash with Republic of Ireland.

A superb swift passing move ripped open the Republic of Ireland defence in the third minute.

Stuart Armstrong started it with a slide rule pass to Scott McTominay who quickly moved the ball inside to Dykes.

The striker back-heeled a return pass to the onrushing McTominay whose 15 yard drive was deflected straight at keeper Gavin Bazunu.

Republic of Ireland shock Scotland

Republic of Ireland had the ball in the back of the net in the 11th minute when Troy Parrott raced forward and rode two challenges before shooting in from 12 yards.

He was offside when receiving the initial pass and the goal was chalked off.

However the failure to clear the evident danger was an early warning sign for the Scots.

One that was not heeded.

Scotland’s Lyndon Dykes in action against Republic of Ireland at Hampden.

Within minutes the ball was again in Craig Gordon’s net… but this time it counted.

A corner from James McLean was headed by Dykes as far as the edge of the box where Jayson Molumby outjumped Callum McGregor to head back into the box.

Nathan Collins stabbed out a foot to direct the ball towards captain John Egan who fired a vicious right footed drive from eight yards.

John Egan celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 Ireland against Scotland at Hampden.

Republic of Ireland were playing a high intensity, attritional, physical game that came with the added threat of a real danger in attack.

Blow as Tierney taken off injured

For the second game in succession Scotland suffered a full-back injury blow in the first half.

Left-back Tierney went down in the box and appeared to be caught on the head by a flailing boot.

After receiving treatment on the pitch he was able to walk off the pitch, replaced by Greg Taylor in the 42nd minute.

Scotland left-back Kieran Tierney comes off injured during a UEFA Nations League match against Republic of Ireland.

Republic of Ireland should have been reduced to 10 men near half-time.

Joe Cullen was booked for dissent in the 45th minute for kicking the ball away.

Then in time added on he slid into a reckless challenge on Aaron Hickey.

It should have been a second quick fire yellow and dismissal.

However the referee opted not to give Cullen a deserved second yellow.

Republic of Ireland’s Josh Cullen fouls Scotland’s Aaron during a UEFA Nations League match.

Half-time: Scotland 0 Republic of Ireland 1

Scotland drew level in the 50th minute when Christie crossed from the left edge of the penalty area towards Jack Hendry who was completely unmarked.

The defender made the space count by flicking a glancing header beyond keeper Bazunu from 12 yards.

Keeper Craig Gordon came to the rescue in the 57th minute as Republic of Ireland broke upfield on the counter attack.

Michael Obafemi powered upfield and slid a pass to Parrott who was clear.

One on one with Gordon, Parrott shot but the keeper brilliantly blocked the 15 yard drive with his leg.

Scotland’s Jack Hendry celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1 against Republic of Ireland.

In the 69th minute substitute Ryan Fraser cut inside and unleashed a vicious 20 yard drive that keeper Bazunu pushed wide.

Scotland were awarded a penalty when a McGinn corner was headed by McTominay.

His header hit the hand of Alan Browne which was out in an unnatural position.

The penalty decision went to VAR and after a nervous wait the spot kick was upheld.

Christie stepped forward to calmly stroke home in the 82nd minute.

Full-time: Scotland 2 Republic of Ireland 1

SCOTLAND (4-2-3-1): Gordon 7; Tierney 4 (Taylor 42), McKenna 7, Hendry 7, Hickey 6 (Ralston 57); McGregor 6, McTominay 6; Christie 7 (McLean 84), McGinn 7, Armstrong 6 (Fraser 57); Dykes 6 (Adams 84)

Subs: Gallagher, McCrorie, Porteous, Kelly, Gilmour, Doig,  Jack.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (3-5-2): Bazunu 7; O’Shea 6, Egan 7, Collins 6; McLean 6, Molumby 6 (Browne 76), Cullen 6, Knight 6, Doherty 6; Obefami 6 (Ogbene 60), Parrott 6 (Robinson 77)

Subs: Coleman, Duffy, Hourihane, Hendrick, Travers, Hogan,  Brady, O’Dowda, O’Leary

Referee: Sandro Schärer (Switzerland)

Man-of-the-match: Ryan Christie