JUST when it looked as if Scotland's chances of qualifying for Euro 2013 had all but disappeared at Tynecastle last night, late goals from Rhonda Jones and Christie Murray salvaged the campaign.
Anna Signeul's side had trailed for 81 minutes after losing an early goal in a poor first half, and when Kim Little missed a penalty on the hour the prospect of Sweden next summer looked distant indeed. But credit to the Scots, who never gave up trying to win the three points, and the two goals in 60 seconds with just minutes remaining thrilled the healthy crowd.
The result allowed Scotland to leapfrog the downcast Irish side and take second place behind France in Group 4. It was a desperately disappointing finish for the visitors, who must have thought they had grabbed the win.
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Scotland could scarcely have had a worse start. With only four minutes on the clock, Ireland's Megan Campbell sent a free kick into the box and Irish striker Denise O'Sullivan headed the ball past Gemma Fay. Then, almost immediately after the restart, Suzanne Grant pulled a hamstring and after a lengthy delay had to be replaced by Leanne Ross.
Ireland, with captain Ciara Grant winning her 100th cap, sat comfortably on their lead for most of the first half. The Scots couldn't find a way through to striker Jane Ross, and it wasn't until the 30th minute that they even started to trouble the Irish defence.
Just about the only encouraging feature during this period had been some lovely link play between Hayley Lauder and Kim Little and when the former sent over a cross in the 34th minute Rhonda Jones just failed to get her head on it. That apart, there was almost nothing to trouble the experienced Irish goalkeeper Emma Byrne.
The Scots made a much better start to the second half, and an equaliser looked to be on the cards after the hour. Hungarian referee Katalin Kulcsar awarded what looked like a harsh penalty against Aine O'Gorman for handling inside the box, but when the normally reliable Little took the spot kick it wasn't struck firmly enough and Arsenal team-mate Byrne saved to her right.
With Scotland having made two further changes they again spurned a great opportunity six minutes later. Byrne could not hold Leanne Ross's free kick and the ball fell obligingly for Jane Ross but she couldn't make a clean contact and the Irish goalkeeper recovered to stop the ball crossing the line.
Just as it was looking as if the Scots would never salvage the night, two goals arrived unexpectedly within 60 seconds of each other. First, Celtic defender Jones headed Leanne Ross's corner past Byrne and then it got even better when substitute Murray sent a lobbed shot high into the net.