By Ross Clark
It’s fair to say confidence isn’t exactly high heading into Friday’s World Cup Qualifier against England.
Four points from a possible nine is hardly a stunning start, especially when you consider the last double header of fixtures.
Scotland slumped to a 1-1 draw at home to minnows Lithuania followed by a 3-0 thumping by play-off rivals Slovakia, in Trnava.
So, what starting XI should under-fire manager, Gordon Strachan, select against Gareth Southgate’s England…
David Marshall – Probably one of the only consistent performers from the last couple of years. We’re hardly struggling for goalkeepers with both Gordon and young Jack Hamilton breathing down Marshall’s neck. Nevertheless his position appears to be safe – for now.
Callum Paterson – Simply put – he’s the only option. Alan Hutton this week announced his retirement from international football having lived off the success of a few good performances in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign for about eight years. Paterson is the man to take up the role and will be for a number of years. Let’s hope he’s not left as isolated as he was against Slovakia last month.
Grant Hanley/ Russell Martin – Arguably the best comedy duo since Laurel and Hardy will be featuring at Wembley on Friday. Both have hardly been convincing at the back and it was indeed a laughable performance against Slovakia. However, the only other option would be to play Gordon Greer or Christophe Berra who hardly fill me with confidence. It really is the best of a bad bunch with Hanley and Martin probably edging it to cement their place…just.
Lee Wallace – There’s no doubting Scotland are blessed for talent at left-back. There are probably five men who could easily slot into that position and put in a decent performance. With Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney both out through injury Strachan had a dilemma when picking his squad. There were only two positions to fill for left back and he went with Swansea’s Stephen Kingsley and Rangers captain Lee Wallace. Strachan chose to ignore Aberdeen’s Graeme Shinnie despite many supporters expecting him to be picked.
Personally, between Kingsley and Wallace I would give the nod to the Rangers man. Simply put he’s more experienced having played in many an old-firm game and has also won eight caps already for his country. Kingsley, on the other hand, has only claimed one cap and I personally feel it would be unfair to throw him into such a big game – despite his Premier League experience.
Scott Brown – Having limped off against Inverness at the weekend there was an injury worry surrounding the Celtic captain. Thankfully for Scotland fans – he has since declared himself fit.
Having announced his retirement from the international game at the end of the last campaign Brown was a surprise selection for the squad. His performances for Scotland have often been criticised – however there’s no doubting he’s been a consistent performer for Celtic this season. There’s no doubting though that he’s a big game player and will give absolutely everything when he pulls on the pink (yes, pink) jersey on Friday.
Darren Fletcher – A vastly experienced player who simply has to be in your starting XI. Fletcher’s made almost 300 English Premier League appearances during his time with Manchester United and West Brom. He’s been captain for his country on numerous occasions whilst claiming an impressive 76 appearances for the national side.
Similarly to Brown his performances have been criticised for Scotland but at 32 his experience (along with Brown,) is something we desperately need in the side on Friday.
Robert Snodgrass – In recent times he’s been somewhat unpredictable for the national side. After bagging a hat-trick against Malta in the opening match of the campaign he was simply awful in the last double header of matches.
Nevertheless he’s someone proud to pull on the national strip which seems to be few and far between these days. He always gives 100% fully knowing that there is massive competition for places in his area of the pitch – for me Snodgrass deserves his place.
Oliver Burke – I’m still trying to get over the fact Strachan took him off the pitch against Lithuania when he was the best player on the pitch. He seems to have grown in confidence since his multimillion pound move to Red Bull Leipzig. Someone who isn’t afraid to run at defenders and can easily exploit England’s frailties at the back.
He simply has to start.
Leigh Griffiths – Realistically I don’t see Griffiths starting however there’s no question he deserves his chance. If Strachan was going to start him he would have done so before this game when the striker was on hot form. At club level he’s struggled to get in the side recently due to the form of Moussa Dembele but that’s not a good enough reason for him not to start in my opinion.
Similarly to Burke he’ll run at defenders and provides both a threat from set pieces (along with Snodgrass) and at only 5ft 6 – bizarrely an aerial presence.
Steven Fletcher – Often criticised and rarely credited, Fletcher can provide a target man approach that would link in nicely with Griffiths. Against Slovakia he was given little support from the dismal Ritchie and Snodgrass but I think he’s a player suited to playing against England’s back-line.
Despite the criticism he can score goals and his height and physical presence is something we could do with up top.
Formation – 4-4-1-1 – England’s creativity will come from the midfield and we need Darren Fletcher (sitting just in front of the defence,) to put in a solid performance. Brown would be best suited to playing just in front of Fletcher and helping to act as a link between defence and attack.
Further up the pitch we need excellent performances from Snodgrass and Burke in the wide areas if we’re to have any success. It would be good to see them really having a go at England’s full backs.
Griffiths would help provide the goal threat we so desperately need and link in well with the two wide players. He would also provide a bit of creative spark and hopefully team up nicely with Fletcher by playing just in behind the big striker.
You don’t really want to be going into a game against one of the big nations knowing that you really need to win. It will be tough and the level of expectation is at an all-time low – but maybe that could work in our favour. Let’s hope so anyway…