Attacking riches allow Scotland to be brave

Shaun Maloney, left, James McArthur, centre, and Scott Brown at Mar Hall. Stuart McCall, below
Shaun Maloney, left, James McArthur, centre, and Scott Brown at Mar Hall. Stuart McCall, below
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Stuart McCall’s mobile goes off just as he’s about to sit down.

The ringtone is a bagpiped rendition of Scotland The Brave. He wanders off to answer it, sweeping his ginger locks away from his face as he goes. He couldn’t be any more Scottish were he slurping a can of Irn-Bru with a Saltire draped round his shoulders at the time.

It will require a brave performance from McCall, Mark McGhee, Gordon Strachan and the entire national team on Saturday. Beating Georgia appears, even this early in the campaign, crucial to hopes of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship. Losing the opening match of Group D in Germany leaves ground to be made up. Failure to beat the Georgians at Ibrox would see Scotland trailing badly after just two matches.

McCall returns after his phonecall – it was his Motherwell assistant Kenny Black who rang – and takes a seat. He is quick to play down the hype surrounding the game. Although born in Leeds, the 50-year-old has spent much of his career as both player and manager in Scotland. He epitomises the Scottish passion and grit and is as determined as anyone to help Strachan lead the country to Euro 2016.

In that regard, perhaps the ringtone carried a subliminal message amidst the bagpipes. Scotland can afford to be brave these days given their attacking riches, a point not lost on McCall. Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher are in goalscoring form in England’s Premier League, while Chris Martin and Stevie May are bulging nets in the league below. Reputable internationalists like Ross McCormack, Leigh Griffiths and the predatory Jordan Rhodes cannot even find a place in the squad right now. “There’s a lot of goals at the minute, but that’s down to the players themselves,” explains McCall. “Who’d have thought Naisy would have been playing regularly at Everton? He probably thought himself a year ago he’d not get a regular start. Now he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet and that’s down to him and what he’s doing. He’s become one of Roberto Martinez’s first picks and he’s playing in a really good side.

“Fletcher’s now got back in and, touch wood, he’s over his injury problems. Stevie May has hit the ground running [since joining Sheffield Wednesday] and Chris Martin [Derby] has come from nowhere. The staff do the work on players. When Gordon came in Stevie and Chris weren’t getting a mention, Naisy had been playing a little bit wide. So we’re delighted and fortunate to have four like that and hopefully there will be others that pop up as well.”

Naismith has been a worthy focal point for Scotland’s attacks in recent matches. With Fletcher back fit, he could drop slightly deeper against Georgia. He will also play an important part in the second part of this international double header against Poland on Tuesday. “When someone is playing in a confident mood you can put him anywhere,” continues McCall. “Against Germany, we moved him out wide and he did well there. He’s scored goals in the middle, either playing off Lukaku [at Everton] or up top himself.

“It’s not been decided whose going to start, but he’s never let Scotland down if he’s played out wide. It’s something we will look at closer in the next couple of days. What the great thing for everyone is that we have good options in all areas of the park. We’ve got Broony [Scott Brown] coming back into the fold now, James Morrison, Fletcher, James McArthur. Craig Bryson as well. That shows you how competitive it is and how difficult a job the manager [Strachan] has in picking a starting line-up with so many knocking on the door.

“You look at how the players have been performing before you meet up. You see Fletcher gets two goals, Naisy continues his form at Everton. The other thing that was interesting that, prior to meeting up, our sports scientist always sends a list of how long it’s been since all the players last played. Apart from Darren Fletcher, who has sort of been on the periphery at Manchester United because of the unbelievable squad they’ve got, and Barry Bannan who has had a new manager, almost everyone else is playing regularly. Sometimes, say Alan Hutton’s last game was three months ago, Shaun Maloney is maybe out. But they are all back playing. They’re playing for 90 minutes at the top of their games and that’s always good.

“The strikers are all scoring goals – Martin, Naisy, Fletch. Stevie May has looked the part whenever he’s joined in as well. They come in confident form as individuals but here at Scotland there is a vibe we’re progressing. There is never any guarantees regarding the result but we’ll be as ready as we can be.”

The omission of Rhodes is again likely to be debated. The Blackburn Rovers striker has four goals in 11 games so far this season and three in 11 caps for Scotland. McCall diplomatically insists the door is not shut.

“The gaffer has mentioned before that there is no doubt in Jordan’s scoring ability. How many crosses deliver in an international game is different to that at club level, and we probably play it slightly different with one target man and one getting up to support and the wide men coming in.

“I think if you look at the squad since the gaffer has been in charge, a lot of front men have come in. Gordon and the staff look at them and think ‘does it suit the way we’re going to play?’ There’s no doubting Jordan scores goals and will always score goals in the right team. But he’s just got to carry on what he’s doing. The door is never shut on anybody.

“If you look at the four that we have, Naisy is in the form of his life, Fletcher showed his ability coming on against Germany, Stevie May is a young guy who plays every week at Sheffield Wednesday and he’s scoring as well. Chris Martin had a terrific debut against Nigeria, and you then have Shaun Maloney and people like that to throw in.”

So just how brave will Scotland be at Ibrox? “Obviously we’re going to go and try and win the game. But it’s not a case of ‘if we don’t the campaign is over’. We still have nine games left and it’s so close between three or four countries.

“They will take points off of each other. We’re aiming to win, but it’s not a must-win. We don’t get to that stage in only the second game.”