SHAUN MALONEY’S superb second-half goal clinched a crucial 1-0 win for Scotland over the Republic of Ireland tonight.
With just over 15 minutes remaining of the Euro 2016 qualifier at Celtic Park, the Wigan midfielder collected a short corner before playing a one-two with skipper Scott Brown and placing a perfect, right-foot shot past David Forde in the Irish goal.
After surving a late scare as Grant Hanley headed against his own bar, the Scots sealed the victory which puts them in third place in Group D on seven points alongside the Irish and world champions Germany.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan had added Andrew Robertson and the fit-again Hanley and Charlie Mulgrew to the side which drew 2-2 in Poland with the injured Alan Hutton, as well as Gordon Greer and the unwell James Morrison, making way.
Ireland boss Martin O’Neill sprang a surprise when he left skipper Robbie Keane out of his starting line-up.
Keane was named among the substitutes as Richard Keogh, Seamus Coleman, Darron Gibson, Jeff Hendrick and Shane Long were drafted into the team which started in Germany last month.
Ireland started well and were awarded a first-minute free-kick 30 yards out, but James McClean drilled his effort harmlessly into the defensive wall.
Jon Walters proved more threatening seconds later when he cut inside on to his right foot and tested Marshall with a long-range strike which bounced nastily in front of the Scotland keeper.
Scotland roared back, though, with Steven Fletcher heading Maloney’s corner over the bar before the latter fired an effort off target following Robertson’s cross.
Glasgow-born Aiden McGeady, who was booed by the home support on every touch, incurred the wrath of referee Milorad Mazic when he felled Fletcher with a late challenge and was booked for his pains.
The Scots went close 11 minutes before the break when Brown picked out Maloney on the left and he floated a cross to the far post for Mulgrew to power a header just wide.
Then, with four minutes of a frenetic first half remaining, Maloney controlled a high ball brilliantly and crossed to the near post for Fletcher, but the frontman failed to connect with an ambitious flick when a shot with his right foot seemed easier.
McGeady showed his class five minutes into the second period when he whipped in a superb cross which Walters got his head to but, fortunately for Scotland, his effort was deflect over.
Minutes later, Walters nodded a corner towards goal and Long, lurking just yards from goal, failed to get enough power and direction on his header to trouble Marshall.
Ireland continued to pile on the pressure and Marshall was forced to turn McGeady’s left-foot volley past the post.
But Scotland weren’t finished and took back control of the game. Chris Martin, a 56th-minute replacement for Fletcher, headed over with his first touch before being presented with a golden opportunity to put the home side ahead. Steven Naismith drove into right-hand side of the penalty area and picked out Martin but the Derby County striker dragged his side past the near post.
In the 74th minute, Walters headed a Mulgrew free-kick onto his own bar and out for a corner but there was to be no escape for Ireland from the set-piece. Maloney took it short from Ikechi Anya and played a one-two with Brown before firing a wonderful strike past Forde to send the Scotland fans wild.
A frantic finale followed with Ireland inches away from securing a draw in injury time as Hanley headed a free-kick against his own bar and over for a corner.
But Strachan’s men held on for a vital three points.
The teams meet in the return clash in Dublin on Saturday, June 13 in what promises to be another cracker. Before that, Scotland have the small matter of a friendly match against England at Parkhead this Tuesday night ..
Scotland: Marshall, Whittaker, R Martin, Hanley, Robertson, Brown, Mulgrew, Maloney, Naismith, Anya (D Fletcher 88), S Fletcher (C Martin 55). Subs not used: Gordon, Gilks. Berra, Dorrans, Bannan, Greer, Burke, Russell, May,
Republic of Ireland: Forde, Coleman, Ward, O’Shea, Keogh, McGeady, Walters, Gibson (Quinn 66), Hendrick (Keane 78), McClean, Long (Brady 66). Subs not used: Randolph, Given, Clark, Christie, Meyler, Pilkington, McGoldrick, Pearce, Murphy.
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).