Scotland had the narrowest of defeats draws against England on Saturday, with four minutes of ecstasy produced from Leigh Griffiths followed by a lasting moment of agony from Harry Kane from which I’m still to recover.
It was almost one of the Scottish football results of this century, but alas we were foiled.
The truth is though that for most of the match we were poor. England were too, and that’s why the game finished as close as it did, but we weren’t a team that would have deserved the famous win it could have turned out to be.
I’m no fan of Gordon Strachan, and I still feel his management and team selection lacks a certain passion and imagination – and that definitely affects the players on the park.
Rather than just carp from the sidelines, I want to put forward a Scotland squad that can show the future of our game while still getting results.
Our next two qualifiers are against Lithuania and Malta, two must-win games, but evidently winnable games if we can muster a draw against England. I believe these are games where we should change up our squad and give some fine players a chance to test their mettle in real international fixtures.
Here’s the squad (and team) that I’d pick for those games. Note that the average age of the squad is 26, compared to the average age of 28 that was picked for the England game:
Scott Fox (Ross County – 0 caps – Age 29)
Perhaps a little biased choice to kick off the team, but he has consistently been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership over last two seasons and is unquestionably Scotland material. Scotland need a shot stopper, and Fox has this covered more than any other option I can think of.
David Marshall (Hull City – 27 caps – Age 32)
Marshall has always proved himself capable when he’s pulled on the Scotland jersey, but there’s not much that stands out about him. He’s a good all-rounder, but there’s no part of his game that really makes him the first choice here.
Craig Gordon (Celtic – 47 caps – Age 34)
Gordon’s performance against England wasn’t good enough, as he floundered at Oxlade-Chamberlain’ short and was immobile when Harry Kane’s fateful equaliser was in progress. He simply doesn’t have the command he needs, and at 34 it’s not really a point where he can learn to do so. Definitely a good backup, but not one for the future.
Callum Patterson (RB – Cardiff City – 5 caps – Age 22)
Patterson has been tremendous for Hearts for many years, and his move to Cardiff this summer is no real surprise. A natural right-back, he’ll slot perfectly in to the side and use his strength to compliment the centre backs in the box.
Charlie Mulgrew (CB – Blackburn Rovers – 27 caps – Age 31)
Mulgrew is perhaps the only experienced out-and-out centre back that Scotland have, and he’s not really played there all that much for some of his clubs. This is a position that causes trouble for us but Mulgrew’s stature and presence with and without the ball means he’s probably the first pick I’d have to play here.
With his experience for Scotland, I’d also probably hand him the captain’s armband out of the team.
Mark Reynolds (CB – Aberdeen – 0 caps – Age 30)
Reynolds has proven himself solid at Aberdeen and part of their success in recent seasons. His quality has helped them form one of the most solid defences in the league and he really should have been playing for us before now. Another rock in the middle of defence should hopefully shore up an area where we’ve consistently fallen short.
Andy Robertson (LB – Hull – 15 caps – Age 23)
In just a few short years, Andy Robertson has proved himself a confident and able left back for his club and his country. He’s got a strength about him that makes him a tough defender to play against, and his very able at getting forward to.
Ricky Foster (RB – St Johnstone – 0 caps – Age 31)
A consistent performer for a number of years at Rangers, Ross County and now St Johnstone – Foster is well worth having his place in the Scotland squad. He’s a natural right back with plenty of attacking talent and a good strong defensive presence, and a fantastic option to pull off the bench.
Liam Lindsay (CB – Partick Thistle – 0 caps – Age 21)
Partick managed to reach the top six for the first time in the Premiership this year, and Lindsay’s incredible efforts in the back four were part of the reason why. There’s interest from down south for him already and after he’s proven himself as an enforcer at the back he’s a good option to have available.
Darren McGregor (CB – Hibs – 0 caps – Age 31)
Two great seasons in a row in the Championship has done wonders for McGregor’s reputation, netting himself a team in the SPFL team of the year. He’s perhaps on the older side of things to be getting his first Scotland cap, but his quality means he can’t be ruled out as an alternative to the two I’d have in place.
Kieran Tierney (LB – Celtic – 4 caps – Age 20)
Kieran Tierney is perhaps Scotland’s best young talent, after having two magnificent seasons at Celtic and proving a quality well beyond his young age. Normally a left-back, he seemed well-equipped against England on Saturday and believes he’s capable of taking on challenges at Scotland. I think Andy Robertson has a little more experience, so should start ahead of him, but Tierney can fill in for either Robertson or Patterson if needed.
Ikechi Anya (RW – Derby County – 27 caps – Age 29)
Anya is more of a defensive player naturally, but his quality in getting forward down the wing is unmatched by anyone else in the Scotland squad. He’s done wonders for us in getting crosses in or even popping up with goals, and one of the few players in the team that’s genuinely exciting.
Stuart Armstrong (CM – Celtic – 2 caps – Age 25)
There’s probably no finer Scottish talent at the moment than Stuart Armstrong, who has had an imperious season with Celtic. He can command the centre of the park whilst getting himself forward and taking some good set pieces, so he’s an ideal candidate to anchor the midfield.
Kenny McLean (CM/AM – Aberdeen – 1 cap – Age 25)
An ever-present for Aberdeen this season, playing 53 games in total, and one that’s ideal for getting the ball and making forward moves with it. I’d have him playing a bit in front of Armstrong, aiming to get forward and support the strikers as much as possible.
Ryan Fraser (LW – Bournemouth – 1 cap – Age 23)
The former Aberdeen man has done very well at Bournemouth this season, and managed to net a couple of goals as the side maintain their place in mid-table. His pace on the wing is threatening and he manages to put in a good shift in every game. If he can add the same dynamism that Anya provides, then there’ll be great service for the front two to feed off.
Oliver Burke (RW – RB Leipzig – 5 caps – Age 20)
After a lightning start to his career, the end of this season with Bundesliga upstarts RB Leipzig hasn’t been so kind. His potential is there and it’s important he’s involved in the set up to get the most out of his potential – providing a capable understudy too for Anya, who often doesn’t play a full 90 minutes.
James Forrest (RW – Celtic – 17 caps – Age 25)
Forrest has been good for Celtic and has forged a way into a team filled with quality players. Last season he managed to net 6 goals and earn 7 assists too, showing what he can do in terms of getting forward. A great option to have on the bench and one that can play on the left or the right.
Graeme Shinnie (CM – Aberdeen – 0 caps – Age 25)
Perhaps one of the most over-looked talents in the Scottish game, Graeme Shinnie deserves a call up as a central midfield option. He has the ability to control the ball well and has defensive prowess too, so he’d be good to have as an option to hold out a game.
Barrie McKay (LW – Rangers – 1 cap – Age 22)
As it turns out Barrie McKay is the only Rangers player I picked in the squad. He’s a natural talent has done well at Ibrox in tough cirumstances over the last few years. He does lack a goal threat, but is a good worker on the wing and could provide good service if brought on instead of Fraser.
Leigh Griffiths (ST – Celtic – 14 caps – Age 26)
Griffiths is by far and away Scotland’s best striker, and he just cemented that status for a while to come with his tremendous display at Hampden on Saturday. He can score goals and hold up the play, which is what we need desperately when we play the way we do. If he can produce his best in the blue jersey, then we’ll really improve.
Jason Cummings (ST – Hibernian – 0 caps – Age 21)
Cummings has been banging the goals in for Hibs for a number of seasons now, and even at 21 I think he’s earned his right to play in the team. I’d like to see Scotland be ambitious, and I don’t think we’re losing any ground by having the confidence to play 2 strikers against Lithuania and Malta – where we need goals to move us up the table. He can score goals and work around the box to set things up too, so he’ll do well alongside Griffiths.
Jordan Rhodes (ST – Sheffield Wednesday – 14 caps – Age 27)
Jordan Rhodes was once the next great hope of Scottish football, but since leaving Blackburn a couple of years ago his star has faded slightly. He’s a natural goalscorer, but has never found himself comfortable on the Scotland stage. Worth having around if he’s on his game though.
Steven Naismith (ST – Norwich City – 45 caps – Age 30)
Perhaps more on the veteran side of things, Steven Naismith has a lot of experience in the national team and always gives his all for the side. He’s great at working alongside a goal scorer and making space, and that’s why he’d be a valuable player to have on the bench to support one of the other strikers.
There’s a few notable exclusions from the squad, so let me go through the reasoning.
Scott Brown hasn’t got the temperament to play for Scotland, and certainly not to captain it. He’s consistently getting bookings for poor challenges that hamper his ability to do his job in stopping attacks. And he’s certainly not the best person you’d call for to create an attack – so why would he make it in the side?
Steven Fletcher is also a Scotland ever-present, but what has he actually done for us? He’s got 9 international goals, but a whopping 7 of them have come against Gibraltar – a team cobbled together from off-duty policeman, firemen and teachers. He’s not good enough when he plays for Scotland, so despite some reasonable club form I don’t think we should rely on him any more.
Now for a big batch: Grant Hanley, Russell Martin, James Morrison and Robert Snodgrass – all players getting on in years that Strachan seems to like, but do very little when they’re on the pitch (Snodgrass’ two goals against Croatia 4 years ago aside). Some of them (Morrison excluded) don’t really play much for their clubs either, so it’s no wonder they’re a little rusty when called into action.
Despite our recent international footballing history, Scotland does have some footballing talent – and if we can get our national team playing in a positive way and gelling together for a number of years then we can really have a go at qualifying for a major tournament again. Relying on a formula that’s not worked for us over the past few years is not going to do the job, so let’s change it for the upcoming qualities and show what the next generation can do.