SCOTLAND returned to winning ways when goals from Kim Little and Jane Ross secured the three points at Solitude Stadium in Belfast, but they will feel they should have scored more goals against a totally outclassed Northern Ireland side.
Little's beautifully struck free kick a minute before the interval was the midfielder's 33rd goal in 99 internationals, but the Scots couldn't build on it until the 79th minute when Jane Ross scored her tenth goal in Group 4.
Nevertheless, if the margin of victory should have been greater, the Scots remain on course for next summer's World Cup in Canada. The play-offs are looking increasingly likely to be the route there as Sweden made up more ground in the group with a 5-0 win in the Faroe Islands earlier in the evening.
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Anna Signeul's side stay on top, but only just, as the Swedes are now level on points and goal difference with a game in hand. The Scots have scored five goals more.
"We dominated the game but when you come up against a team determined to sit in it's always going to be tough," Little said. "We were happy to get the goal just before half time because that makes the outlook a lot different in the dressing room.
"I saw a gap at the free kick and asked Jane [Ross] to move. We could have scored a few more in the second half but we're happy with the three points.
"The group is more in Sweden's hands now but all we can do is try to score as many goals as we can against the Faroe Islands at Fir Park and then go to Sweden for the final match in the group."
As the game got underway at Cliftonville's ground, conditions were still hot with the sun in the eyes of Northern Ireland goalkeeper Emma Higgins and her defenders. Little had an early chance, but her low shot from the edge of the box was easily saved by Higgins.
Scotland should have taken the lead in the twelfth minute but scorned two great opportunities. Jane Ross was put in behind the defence but opted to square the ball when attempting to slip the ball past Higgins looked the better option; the ball eventually fell to Lisa Evans at the far post but her weak shot didn't trouble the keeper.
Scotland were playing by far the better football on the artificial surface, yet failing to test the home defence with high balls in the tricky conditions. When Northern Ireland did attack it was easy to see from their pedestrian efforts why scoring goals has been such a problem for them in this campaign.
Although Scotland ramped up the pressure in the last ten minutes of the half the teams looked to be going into the interval level until Jenny Beattie surged forward from the back. The Montpellier player was cynically taken out by Glasgow City defender Julie Nelson, allowing Little to take a free kick from 22 yards which she blasted beyond Higgins.
Scotland set the tone for a second half which was even more one-sided than the first when Evans set up a chance for Rachel Corsie but the Notts County player slipped the ball wide of the post. Then, on the hour, Sue Lappin missed another great chance, this time failing to find the target with a header from Frankie Brown's cross.
Scotland continued to push for a second goal, Hayley Lauder coming close but her lob was headed clear near the line.
They did eventually extend their lead in the 77th minute. Little played Jane Ross in and the striker shot past Higgins to ensure there would be no late shock in store for her side.