Michael Obafemi marked his full debut with a stunning strike as the Republic of Ireland ended their wait for a first Nations League victory at the 13th attempt by putting Scotland to the sword.
The 21-year-old Swansea frontman drilled home a 30-yard piledriver to cement a 3-0 League B Group One win at the Aviva Stadium, just Ireland’s third victory in 18 competitive games under manager Stephen Kenny.
It could hardly have come at a better time after back-to-back defeats by Armenia and Ukraine which had raised fresh questions over Kenny’s tenure and prompted a defiant response from the 50-year-old.
The Republic’s first competitive win in Dublin since they beat Gibraltar in a Euro 2020 qualifier in June 2019 was set up by first-half goals from Alan Browne and Troy Parrott, who doubled Ireland’s entire Nations League tally inside eight minutes, and was thoroughly deserved as the Scots wilted in Dublin.
John McGinn passed up two first-half chances for Steve Clarke’s men, but they rarely threatened to get themselves back into the game once they were behind on a dismal afternoon for the 2,500 travelling fans among a crowd of 46,947.
As expected, Kenny shuffled his pack, handing Obafemi a first senior start for his country in one of five changes to the side which lost to Ukraine in midweek, while Grant Hanley and Scott McTominay were drafted into the Scotland line-up in place of John Souttar and Stuart Armstrong.
Ireland, stung by the criticism they had received after a poor start to the campaign, started with real tempo as Jason Knight snapped into tackles and wing-backs Browne and James McClean worked their way into advanced positions.
The visitors quickly settled, however, and, with McTominay orchestrating from the middle of the field, pushed the home side back towards their own goal.
Obafemi was unable to make the most of Hanley’s early slip which looked to have put him in behind the Scottish defence, but Browne had to block Andy Robertson’s goal-bound 12th-minute strike and goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher had to get down well to field McGinn’s skidding attempt seconds later.
The Republic lacked penetration as Scotland sat back and denied space when they were in possession, in the process preventing midfielder duo Josh Cullen and Jayson Molumby from doing any meaningful damage.
But it was they who took the lead with 20 minutes gone when Shane Duffy headed McClean’s corner back across goal and Browne bundled the ball past keeper Craig Gordon.
Scotland should have been level within seven minutes, but McGinn placed his side-footed effort inches wide of Kelleher’s right post, and their misery was compounded within seconds when Obafemi clipped a delightful ball over the top for Parrott to head gleefully past the advancing Gordon and double Ireland’s advantage.
It would have been 3-0 nine minutes before the break had Gordon not tipped away Duffy’s bullet header, although the keeper was fortunate to escape after touching another McClean corner on to the far post seconds later.
Jack Hendry made way for Billy Gilmour before the restart as the visitors sought a way back into the game, but their plight worsened with six minutes when Obafemi picked up a loose ball 30 yards out, took a neat controlling touch and than blasted it mercilessly past the helpless Gordon.
Substitute Scott Hogan thought he had made it 4-0 with a 61st-minute back-post header from another McClean cross, but Hanley’s goal-line clearance was confirmed by a VAR check.
In the meantime, Duffy had picked up a booking which will rule him out of Tuesday’s return clash with Ukraine in the Polish city of Lodz, but, as time ran down, that was the only fly in the ointment for Kenny’s men, with Scottish hopes even of restoring a measure of pride coming to little.
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