Graeme Shinnie to solve Scotland’s left-back crisis for Euro 2020 opener

Alex McLeish has total confidence in handing Graeme Shinnie the left-back role
Alex McLeish has total confidence in handing Graeme Shinnie the left-back role
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Alex McLeish will turn to Graeme Shinnie to help Scotland out of a left-back crisis after Kieran Tierney joined skipper Andy Robertson on the sidelines against Kazakhstan today.

Both hope to be available for Sunday’s trip to San Marino but their absence leaves Scotland short when they kick off their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign at the Astana Arena.

McLeish was putting a brave face on things last night and reminded reporters of Shinnie’s display at left-back at the Azteca stadium against Mexico in a 2-0 defeat last summer.

“He played 90 minutes for us in the Azteca Stadium at left-back and also wing back when we changed formation and did it with great aplomb,” said McLeish. “He’s a fantastic athlete in the best form of his career this season. He would be the obvious candidate (to replace Tierney).”

Six of the side that started Scotland’s 3-2 win over Israel in November are missing. Cardiff City’s Callum Paterson and Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser are not being permitted by their clubs to play on the artificial pitch, Steven Fletcher is “managing injury issues” at Sheffield Wednesday while Ryan Christie is injured. Goalkeeper Allan McGregor, meanwhile, has retired and Liverpool’s Robertson has been waylaid by a dental problem.

The news about Tierney threw a fresh focus on Robertson’s attempt to join his team-mates in Nursultan (Astana) having missed the original flight from Glasgow to have surgery on a mouth abscess. McLeish stressed it was simply not possible for him to be in Kazakhstan despite the player’s own determined efforts to join his team-mates in central Asia.

“He was desperate to come but travelling with the abscess, getting rid of the poison from his system, it was too much in terms of draining it and arriving in the best shape,” said the manager. “It was a shame to lose him but sometimes it happens and you have to be ready and prepared.”

Tierney has not set foot on the artificial surface at the Astana Arena so the tightness he is feeling cannot be blamed on that surface. Tim Williamson, the Scotland physio, is also Head Physio at Celtic. Tierney was seen stretching off his long-standing pelvic complaint during the 1-0 win over Dundee on Sunday and he was rested at training on Tuesday in what described as a precaution.

“The medical was done on him and they were very adamant about it – it had nothing to do with the pitch,” said McLeish. “He was feeling a little tight after the weekend and you saw television evidence of him stretching once or twice. We had to do the right thing and scan him. Unfortunately we can’t play him and he’ll miss this one.

“I don’t know if he will be ready for the weekend. We got the news from the medical team this morning. It is what it is. We have to move on. These are things we can’t control.”

From being blessed with two top-level left-backs earlier this week, McLeish has been left with none. But he stressed Shinnie is a more than adequate replacement.

“We believe we have very good cover and we think a lot of that is down to the fact we played those friendly games last year which stood us in good stead,” he said.

“We were able to see players in different positions and players that are versatile and can play a number of positions.

“I have total belief in the players who will replace the guys who are missing.”

McLeish also confirmed Callum McGregor as captain – the fourth he has named since returning to the job of Scotland manager just over a year ago. Charlie Mulgrew, who pulled out of this squad with an injury, was skipper for McLeish’s first game back in charge against Costa Rica while Scott McKenna, who is expected to be fit to take his place in central defence this evening, led the team on their summer tour to Peru and Mexico.

Robertson was given the armband at the start of the Nations League qualifying campaign in September.