Date: 30th September 2015
Gordon Strachan’s squad announcement yesterday proved that this is a man who will stick by his troops, despite the Georgia and Germany defeats which have left our Euro 2016 fate in Irish and Polish hands.
Many called for Steven Fletcher to drop out altogether after drawing a further two blanks in the September defeats which look set to see Scotland miss out on the big party once again.
Strachan has called him up once again though, and few are expecting anything less than the misfiring Sunderland striker to line up once again in a match the gaffer is finally willing to describe as ‘must win’.
Gordon has stood by his players throughout the campaign, some argue to the extent of loyalty at the cost of overlooking form and other talent. Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest, Steven Fletcher and even recently talisman Scott Brown have all been lucky to keep gaining caps despite underperforming.
Three ‘new’ faces have joined the squad though, with Aberdeen’s stand out performer Graeme Shinnie finally getting the international recognition he deserves for his fantastic form with the early league leaders.
Blackburn’s free scoring Jordan Rhodes finally returns to the squad, with goals at number one on the priority list against Poland, as does uncapped midfielder Kevin McDonald of Wolves.
Here Ben Ramage looks at three changes Strachan could make to help the Tartan Army fire past Poland and at least keep the pressure on Ireland going into the last fixtures of the group, so long as the Irish don’t manage to beat Germany.
Craig Gordon in for David Marshall
Poland’s biggest threat, the giant Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, is unfortunately in the form of his life at the moment, notching ten goals in his last three games. What we wouldn’t give to have a striker like that in our squad!
Whoever is tasked with stopping him continuing this terrifying form has a huge challenge on their hands, but given Marshall’s performance in the recent Germany game, it could well be time for Craig Gordon to be brought back into the international fold.
Marshall was less than convincing against the Germans, diving far too early for Muller’s second goal after only managing to palm the ball into the box, not away from goal. Gordon is well renowned for his shot stopping ability, capable of truly world-class saves, which could be the difference should Lewandowski find space to fire at Hampden.
Darren Fletcher in for Scott Brown
A big call, granted, but few could argue that Scott Brown was at his most dominant in the crucial qualifier away against Georgia. Normally the captain would have grabbed that kind of vital game by the scruff of the neck, but much like his lacklustre performance against Malmo in the Champions League for whatever reason the combative midfielder just wasn’t as effective as he usually is.
While players shouldn’t be hung out to dry for one poor performance, Brown just hasn’t been at his brilliant best so far this season and central midfield is one of the few areas Scotland actually have ample quality replacements. Moreover, no player should be untouchable or above being dropped, this can only lead to complacency.
Darren Fletcher, one of Scotland’s few recent caps who have truly neared World Class status in his heyday at Man Utd, has fought back to fitness and is now the influential captain of West Brom, finally getting the regular game time in the Premier League he needs.
Granted West Brom have not had the best start to the season, but Darren has played and excelled in so many big games for Scotland that his coolness and ability to control the game could be imperative against Poland. In arguably Strachan’s most significant game in charge, he could do a lot worse than to turn to such a quality midfield general when the floodlit pressure builds at Hampden Park.
Steven Naismith in for Steven Fletcher
Strachan has stuck with Fletcher throughout this entire campaign, insisting that his all round game and link up play with his teammates makes up for his lack of proficiency in front of goal.
This is true, and most can see that Steven is a quality forward with a fantastic touch and great vision. But simply put, he just has not scored enough goals. In Strachan’s system he is the most advanced player, and he has not been effective enough in front of goal to put us ahead in huge games, particularly recently against Georgia. This has seen our qualification fate slip through our hands and into others.
If his club form was brilliant then the Tartan Army would be more forgiving of Strachans insistence to keep him in the side, but that simply isn’t the case. In Sunderland’s last four games, he has made two substitute appearances, scoring none. He has been coming back from injury, but nevertheless that form is not indicative of gaining the main striking role for your country.
Steven Naismith meanwhile has played in all three of Everton’s last league games and managed a man of the match and a stunning hat-trick against Chelsea, despite only coming on as a substitute against Mourinho’s men.
Couple this with the fact that he has scored in huge international games before, most notably against Spain at Hampden, it is clear that Naismith could lead the line effectively against Poland and is more in form to do so than Fletcher.
Naismith also fits the bill in terms of the progressive formation Strachan wants the national side to follow, with all players able to hold the ball up and move positions in a more fluid front line. Fletcher’s inclusion over Naismith’s in this instance would certainly indicate that the gaffer holds loyalty above all else.
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Tags: Craig Gordon, Darren Fletcher, David Marshall, Euro 2016, FIFA, Football, France 2016, Gordon Strachan, Graham Shinnie, Jordan Rhodes, Poland, Robert Lewandowski, Scotland, Scott Brown, Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith, Tartan Army, UEFA