ALAN HUTTON today admitted Scotland face a hard task in replacing frontman Kenny Miller, but claimed ex-Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths could be the ideal replacement for tonight’s clash with Belgium.
Veteran hitman Miller left a huge void when he announced his retirement from international football, marking his 69th and final cap with a goal against England at Wembley as he seeks to prolong his club career at MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps.
And, with Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher – “probably Scotland’s best all-round player” according to coach Gordon Strachan – having only just hit the comeback trail after suffering a serious injury in the Hampden loss to Wales in March, Hutton believes Griffiths can step up to the challenge. The out-of-favour Aston Villa player agreed that he and his fellow defenders had lost a valuable “out ball” with the loss of Miller’s non-stop running and his willingness to act as a lone striker on many occasions.
He said: “It’s a massive job. Kenny has been doing it for years when we have been under pressure, working away up there on his own a lot.
“I think one of the best games I have seen was against England, the ball was getting put up to him but he was holding it and winning us fouls.
“But it is also a massive opportunity for other strikers. They are all young and hungry and want to play for their country.”
Asked if Strachan’s squad contained anyone quite like Miller, Hutton said: “I think Leigh is in that mould. He does a lot of running.
“He can hold the ball up and he is willing to get into the channels. Leigh did brilliantly in Croatia, but there’s Jordan Rhodes who is a great striker, a big lad who can hold the ball up, while whenever Shaun Maloney, playing in that role off the striker, gets the ball things seem to happen.
“So there’s a lot of boys vying for that position.
“It’s going to be tough for them, but I am sure one of them will step up to it.”
And while conceding Belgium, rated tenth in the world and the Scots only 50th, go into tonight’s World Cup qualifier as firm favourites, Hutton insisted the new-found confidence within Strachan’s squad could lead to a surprise win which would eclipse the shock victory in Zagreb three months ago.
He said: “Maybe other teams look at us and think ‘it’s only Scotland, we will run over the top of them’. But I think people are going to be in for a shock.”