Scotland enter a win-or-bust scenario against Slovenia on Sunday night hoping to resuscitate ailing World Cup qualification hopes. Losing, or even drawing, at Hampden isn’t an option. Yet attacking options are decidedly thin on the ground.
Leigh Griffiths and Jordan Rhodes finished Wednesday night’s 1-1 friendly draw with Canada up front together, but a two-man forward line against the Slovenians is unlikely. Of the five strikers in Gordon Strachan’s squad, only Rhodes is a regular starter at club level. Griffiths, Steven Fletcher, Chris Martin and Steven Naismith are all short of match practice.
The likelihood is that Strachan will deploy a 4-2-3-1 system for a game which may well decide his own future as national coach.
“Chris Martin has not been getting games recently and suffering from it. Steven Fletcher has not been getting games. We have a problem in that our strikers are not playing regularly,” said Mark McGhee, Strachan’s assistant.
“As a striker myself, I knew I would be at my best if I was playing every week. To be in and out of the team, I don’t think strikers do that very well so that is a bit of a problem for us. Gordon obviously has to consider that.
“We have to consider the opposition as well and whether we can play with two up front. That is probably a difficult thing to do. Both Leigh and Jordan were on against Canada and did quite well. It gives Gordon food for thought but it is unlikely we will start with a 4-4-2 with two boys up front.”
Griffiths’ enthusiasm for the cause was evident at Easter Road on Wednesday despite his lack of game time at Celtic. Asked if he had been slightly downbeat as a result of club-level inactivity, McGhee replied: “No, quite the opposite. He has not been getting a game at his club but he comes here and feels he has a chance of playing.
“Therefore, in training, he has shown his hunger and desire. He is a great finisher and has shown every bit of that desire you would want to see that he wants to play.”
A swollen knee ruled the Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser out of the Canada match. He was being assessed late last night to determine whether he can recover in time to win his first senior international cap on Sunday.
Another disappointing result would effectively end Scotland’s campaign and potentially spell the end for Strachan and McGhee in charge of the national team. McGhee was candid when asked about the level of performance expected and fans’ reactions.
“I would only implore supporters to, at worst, come along and if we’re rubbish, boo us,” he said. “You never know, we might be decent and they might have something to cheer.”
The 59-year-old remains convinced, however, that a win would genuinely revitalise hope that Scotland can reach Russia 2018. “Yes, I think so. It would still leave us with a lot to do but it will put us straight back in the mix.
“The only result we can live with is a win and then we can all take stock. We will all feel a little bit differently on Monday morning if we have won.
“It is high pressure but these boys play with a level that they can handle that pressure. They won’t be phased by the consequences of any result. They will live with that and will be able to play with that.
“The Canada game was more about that and was never really going to be of any significance come Sunday night against Slovenia.
“There was always going to be opportunities for people to perform well and play themselves into it. Clearly, that didn’t particularly happen.
“The game against Slovenia takes care of itself and there will be no consequence because of the Canada match. I felt all along that Canada and Slovenia are two different exercises. I don’t think they are related.”
Much has been made of Aberdeen players not being called up by Strachan. McGhee offered an explanation.
“We know there are some good players at Aberdeen. But, for instance, Ryan Jack has to get in ahead of Scott Brown, James Morrison, and Darren Fletcher. Every player in the country cannot get in the squad and these guys are in the squad and have been in the squad. They have their places but that is not to say Ryan Jack is not a good player. If they keep playing well, then who knows.”
After his sacking by Motherwell, McGhee is grateful to be involved with Scotland. “You tire of the East Sussex cappuccino trail so I’m quite happy to be out of that and in the game again,” he smiled.
“I’ve not lost my desire. I love being involved with the national team, it’s an honour and a privilege. You’re watching boys train and the level they train at is just inspiring. They are fantastic players, regardless of what anybody else thinks. It’s just great to be here.”
How does he reflect on Motherwell? “I don’t. I move on. I’ve been sacked six times so you get used to it.”