Diminutive playmaker Shaun Maloney separated the sides with a brilliant curling effort in the 75th minute after linking up well with Scott Brown following a short corner. Maloney, Steven Naismith and Ikechi Anya formed a creative threat to the Irish in a first half that Scotland dominated without being able to carve open many chances. Press Association “There wasn’t much football but any chance they had they did that. “That’s brave to play when the ball is flying about and the tackles are flying in everywhere. “That was like one of those big heavyweight boxing matches.” Strachan reserved special praise for Celtic midfielder Charlie Mulgrew, who seemed to have a yard more space than anyone else on the park. “Charlie was absolutely immense,” Strachan said. “Normally we come here and say what a game Scott Brown had. But Charlie has taken the mantle, ably backed up by the people round about him.” Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill felt there was little in the game but admitted his players had not produced their best, including Aiden McGeady. The former Celtic winger – booed throughout on his return to the ground where he made his name – made little impact in the first half and was booked for a bad foul on Steven Fletcher. The native Scot improved after the break, putting in some dangerous crosses and forcing a good save from David Marshall. But O’Neill said: “I think Aiden, like a number of players, for the sort of form he has shown recently, would have been a bit frustrated.” When asked if the atmosphere and occasion had got to the Everton player, O’Neill added: “I haven’t spoken to him about that but for the form he has shown for us and the games he has won for us recently, he had a frustrating time.” The former Celtic manager likened the game to a club derby. “I thought it was a frenetic game. I don’t thing either of the two sides were able to get it down and play. “Scotland weren’t able to get hold of it either and we weren’t able to do so. “We said this was going to be a derby game, a derby feel, a derby atmosphere, and it had all those ingredients. Neither of the teams were able to keep possession long enough. “Maybe that was because of the atmosphere or maybe a bit of nervousness that applied to it but I think that applied to both teams.” Meanwhile, O’Neill explained his surprise decision to leave top goalscorer Robbie Keane on the bench until the 78th minute. “I make decisions for the good of the team and Robbie accepted it because we were playing away from home and we wanted to stretch them, and Shane Long can do that,” he said. But Maloney’s piece of brilliance – inspired by coach Stuart McCall’s short-corner routine – edged a closer second half in a frantic European Championship qualifier at Celtic Park. Strachan said: “I said earlier in the week that there was one goal deciding all the games in the group, outwith Gibraltar, and it happened again. We did say set-plays were going to be big and it happened. “As for a pure football spectacle, it wasn’t that great. But for a spectacle of two groups of players not wanting to give an inch, it was mesmerising. “They wanted to jump higher than each other, run quicker, tackle harder. And the fans made it an occasion. “We are just fortunate that Stuart McCall came up with that set-play he came away with. “You can put on a set play but you have to be able to finish like that.” Strachan has created a three-pronged attack behind Steven Fletcher in his own image. The former Manchester United midfielder said: “I have to say our smaller guys, considering the height and power they were playing against, were very brave on and off the ball. Scotland manager Gordon Strachan hailed his pint-sized heroes for emerging victorious in a “heavyweight” contest with the Republic of Ireland.