SCOTLAND will expect to get back to winning ways when they play a seriously weakened Northern Ireland side at Seaview Stadium in Belfast tonight. They won 2-1, with Shelley Kerr still in charge, when they met a much stronger side in March of last year.

That was in the Pinatar Cup, a four-team tournament in Spain which Scotland won just before the first Covid lockdown. Nothern Ireland lost all their three games – but the fortunes of the two teams could not have been more different in the intervening 15 months.

Whereas Scotland, seeded to win their Euro 2023 qualifying group, could only finish third following home and away defeats to Finland and Portugal, Kenny Shiels led Northern Ireland to a historic first major championship in England next year. They got there with a 4-1 aggregate win over Ukraine in play off matches two months ago.

Scotland's failure led to Kerr resigning on Christmas Eve, and she still has not been replaced five and a half months later. Stuart McLaren, the Scotland under-16 men's coach, was put in interim charge for the final two Euro qualifiers in February, and will again take the reins for tonight's friendly and a second against Wales in Llanelli on Tuesday.

McLaren is understood to want the job on a permanent basis. For these two games has brought in Bristol City head coach Tanya Oxtoby to join a backroom team which also includes Glasgow City captain Leanne Ross.

Oxtoby, who is Australian and has been assistant manager at Perth Glory and Birmingham City, is on maternity leave from her club. She gave birth to a son on March 23.

Her partner, Alice Kempski, is looking after baby and McLaren said: “It just goes to prove the level of commitment Tanya has as a professional and to our camp that she's willing to step away from her young son and spend nine days with us.


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“The opportunity to work with the Scotland women's team is huge for any coach. When I spoke to Tanya about that possibility, she felt it was a genuine privilege to come and work with this squad.

“Stepping away from her son when he is so young is a demonstration of that.”

Northern Ireland are missing eight first team starters through injury, including the Rangers duo of Demi Vance and Megan Bell.