GORDON STRACHAN today hailed his “little big men” for the bravery they displayed to down a tough-tackling Republic of Ireland side thanks to a stunning goal from 5ft 7in Shaun Maloney.
The Wigan star struck with only 16 minutes remaining to haul Scotland level on points with the Irish and Germany in a European Championship qualifying group headed by Poland.
Strachan revealed the goal came via a set-play devised by his assistant Stuart McCall, Maloney’s curling shot resulting from a corner after Irish midfielder Jon Walters had sent a Charlie Mulgrew free-kick crashing off his own crossbar.
Admiting he thought one goal would be enough to win the match, Strachan conceded the 90 minutes at Celtic Park hadn’t been the greatest of games but one which he found intriguing.
The Scotland boss said: “As a footballing spectacle, pure football, it wasn’t great but, for two groups of players not wanting to give an inch, it was mesmerising. They wanted to jump higher than each other, run quicker, tackle harder. We are just fortunate Stuart McCall came away with that set-play.
“I have to say our smaller guys, considering the height and power they were playing against, were immense.
“They were brave on and off the ball they did very well. It was not really a game for smaller guys. Andy Robertson isn’t big nor are Maloney, Steven Naismith and Ikechi Anya.
“It’s brave to play when the ball is flying about and the tackles are flying in.
“It was like one of those big heavyweight boxing matches.”
Having said that, Strachan pinpointed Celtic star Charlie Mulgrew as the man of the match, saying: “He was immense absolutely immense. You normally come in and say what a game Scott Brown has had but tonight Charlie has taken the mantle, bravely backed up by by the people around him.”
Irish boss Martin O’Neill admitted he believed the game was heading for a draw when Maloney struck, saying: “I felt at that stage we were reasonably comfortable. It was a frenetic match, stop-start, littered with fouls just like a derby game in many aspects.
“I thought we were going to get something out of it. We were probably cancelling each other out and I didn’t think we were in phenomenal danger when they scored.
“I still think Germany are the strongest team in the group. It’s going to be tough, but we are still there.
“We’ve played three away games, one at home and have seven points on the board. Now four of our next five games are at home.”