Scotland edge out Northern Ireland at Hampden Park

Christophe Berra scored a late winner for Scotland

Christophe Berra scored a late winner for Scotland


Scotland manager Gordon Strachan declared his side's tight win against Northern Ireland as the perfect warm up before their European Championship qualifier against Gibraltar on Sunday.

After their fine win against the Republic of Ireland in the most recent outing, Scotland prepared for what should be a comfortable meetings against the Euro 2016 qualifying Group D whipping boys with a win thanks to a late Christophe Berra goals.

Scotland dominated the Hampden friendly but were frustrated by Hamilton goalkeeper Michael McGovern until half-time substitute Berra headed home debutant Matt Ritchie's corner in the 85th minute.

Neither Craig Gordon nor Allan McGregor had a save to make in the Scotland goal and Strachan was delighted with the 1-0 win ahead of the visit of Gibraltar on Sunday.

"I thought it was important to win, really important," he said. "Just to make us feel good about ourselves.

"The performance at times was good as well, comfortable, brave on the ball, patient at times, getting used to the new pitch as well, it's a bit slick.

"It was really good to win and get a clean sheet because Northern Ireland have improved immensely over the past year, beating Hungary and Greece, and the Faroes."

The impressive Ikechi Anya had a number of efforts in the first half and also set up Steven Fletcher while Steven Naismith was a threat in the second period.

Strachan said: "I was really pleased with the way we started the game and the intensity we passed the ball with, and pleased with the number of chances we made and the way we made them.

"Then it kind of lulled in the last 15 minutes of the first half into a kind of friendly atmosphere. It kicked on again after half-time and died off again and came on again in the last 15 minutes.

"I'm pleased with the amount of chances we made and delighted with the number of chances they didn't get.

"They make it very hard, and the difference in this game is if you score early. But we kept plugging away and kept trying to do the right things. There were one or two things I would like do better but to win the game and get a clean sheet was good."

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill (below) admitted Scotland had more depth to their squad after he gave a number of players their debuts and second caps.

But he claimed the goal only came about because he had to utilise his fringe players.

"I think there were more positives than negatives," said O'Neill, whose team host Finland in a qualifier on Sunday.

"The first half it took us about 15 minutes to settle in and when we did have good possession it didn't really come to much, it petered out. We didn't get enough good balls or bodies in the box.

"But from a positive point of view we left a lot first-choice players out. There were seven or eight players on the bench that could start on Sunday.

"It was very positive to get Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes on the pitch together because they have not had much football with their clubs recently.

"And we basically end up with three under-21 players on the pitch in Paddy McNair, Ryan McLaughlin and Luke McCullough. They are just young boys in the infancy of their club careers.

"It possibly shows where we are at the moment. There is a lot more depth to the Scotland squad, but it was great for those lads to get an opportunity to play in this sort of game."

Bookies slash odds on Gareth Bale joining Man Utd

Bale to Manchester United rumours continue to circulate

Bale to Manchester United rumours continue to circulate

Odds makers have moved to slash the odds on Gareth Bale joining Manchester United after a flurry of bets on the Welshman making the move to Old Trafford were lodged on Wednesday.

Betfair now have their odds on Bale moving to United next summer as low as 6/4, with other bookies offering 7/2 on the player who cost Real Madrid a record £86m when he signed from Tottenham in the summer of 2013 making a return to the Premier League.

Bale's stock has fallen considerably at Real Madrid this season, with the club's supporters jeering the player who scored the vital goal in last season's Champions League final victory and the winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona last May.

While Bale and Real Madrid have insisted he will stay at the Bernabeu next season, the Spanish club's eagerness to sign Manchester United keeper David De Gea means a deal may well be possible that could see Bale end up at Old Trafford as part of a mega-deal.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of Angel Di Maria – as he continues to be linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain – could also fuel the rumours that United will look to replace the Argentine with Bale next season, with the silly season for transfer speculation already underway.

However, Wales boss Chris Coleman has moved to offer his backing to Bale, as he suggests his star turn has what it takes to rediscover his best form with Real Madrid.

"Gareth's a big boy, he'll come through that," stated Coleman. "I honestly have no worries about Gareth. He's the last person I'd worry about.

"People can say he's had a bad season but he's in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, still has a chance to win La Liga, [scored] 16 goals and goodness knows how many assists," said Coleman.

"Anywhere else than Real Madrid and he's doing really well. Throw into that he's also the most expensive player and signed by the president. but he will overcome that."

No smoke without fire? If De Gea is certain to move to the Bernabeu next summer then Bale could well end up in a red Manchester United shirt for what could be the club's return to the Champions League next season.

Follow @kpsundayworld