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Top of the group but not looking down on struggling home side

SCOTLAND will aim to bounce back quickly from a defeat by Sweden when they meet Northern Ireland tonight in their latest 2015 World Cup qualifier.

Group 4 is now coming to a head and although the Scots remain top as the result of a slightly superior goal difference, the Swedes have played a game fewer. Pia Sundhage's side will face the Faroe Islands tonight, a match which they are expected to win handsomely.

Surprisingly, it is Northern Ireland, and not the Faroes, that are propping up the group - having managed just two draws from their seven matches. If that statistic is poor then of even greater concern to manager Alfie Wylie and his players will be the fact that they have yet to score a single goal in the campaign.

Less than three years ago, Wylie's side defeated Norway 3-1 in a Euro 2013 qualifier and the beaten side went on to reach the final in Sweden, losing only narrowly to Germany. Wylie cites injuries and having to field inexperienced players as the reason for their subsequent slump.

"We have used 31 players in seven games," he said. "You wouldn't expect to use that many in a club season. "But there are very exciting young players coming through and we hope to make somebody pay for the lack of goals along the line."

Gemma Fay, the Scotland captain, is as bemused as anyone at Northern Ireland's results. "It's hard to see why, because they are very dangerous from set-pieces and have fast, tricky wingers," she said. "At some stage these guys are going to score goals. Let's hope they delay it for another match."

Scotland will also need to improve on their performance on Saturday, when Sweden's opening two goals in the 3-1 defeated were scored from corners. The Scots have two primary concerns in Belfast tonight: to win the match and to maintain their goal difference advantage over Sweden.

Although the task seems straightforward given their contrasting fortunes when compared to those of Northern Ireland, the Scots struggled to break the same opponents down in the home game at Fir Park despite scoring early on through Jane Ross. They did not scored a second goal until 12 minutes from time.

"First and foremost this game is about securing a victory," added Fay. "If you go into any match thinking about goal difference you're not focused on the first priority. Northern Ireland are a very tough side to play against and it's never an easy game."

Jenny Beattie, the Montpellier defender, at least has fond memories of tonight's venue - Solitude, the home of Cliftonville and a stadium which has an artificial surface. The sides met there in a friendly just over two years ago and Beattie, who played as a striker, found the net four times in a 5-1 win.

The game was also memorable for Lisa Evans as she scored her first international goal. She now has 10 but still has a long way to go to catch up with top scorer Kim Little, who has scored 32 goals in 98 matches.

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