Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ryan Christie is the real deal

Shay Logan looks on with, er, admiration after Ryan Christie's stunning strike against Aberdeen

In Dingwall this weekend, Inverness Caley Thistle will get a glimpse of what life after Ryan Christie will be like; a rather daft late red card blotted his copybook against Aberdeen and leaves him suspended for the Highland derby.

What a copybook, though.  The twenty-year-old was unplayable against the Dons...in the first half, anyway (ICT spent the whole of the second period hanging on for grim death).  The opening goal came as a result of a gorgeous dragback and turn that left a certain Aberdeen no. 3 for dead; those of us in the stand were still cooing at it when he played a perfect through pass with his next touch for Miles Storey to score.  And then the second goal!  He'd been so awesome up to that point that, when he got the ball, I said to the person next to me "he should have a go, the way he's playing it'll probably go in".  Not like me to get a prediction right...

How good has Christie been this season?  Well, Inverness have scored nine goals in their opening nine league games.  He has scored three of them, and tallied five assists. That leaves one goal that he hasn't set up - Storey's late strike against Hearts.

So life without Ryan Christie will be pretty scary.  But it's going to happen sooner or later, as of course Celtic signed him on deadline day before loaning him back to the Highlanders with an opportunity to recall him in January.  The way he's playing, it's unthinkable that Ronny Deila won't drag him down to Glasgow for the second half of the season.

Will Christie prosper at Celtic, or will he be the latest in a long string of decent young Scots to stagnate on an Old Firm bench?  I feel quite optimistic about his chances, actually.  Many a time I've watched him and thought that he was often a step or two ahead of his teammates; lots of apparently stray passes would have been good ones had colleagues been anywhere near his wavelength.  His strongest point is his instinct for finding space in between the lines.  Now he has a quick, mobile striker (Storey) ahead of him, forcing defenders to play deeper, those little pockets are a lot easier to find, certainly in comparison to when the stationary Dani Lopez was playing up front back in August.

So just imagine the damage Christie could do when surrounded by superior talent.  I see him as a natural successor to Kris Commons - playing in the hole, always wanting the ball, a threat for a goal or an assist even when the team aren't playing well.

That's not to say he doesn't have any flaws though.  A summer in the gym wouldn't go amiss, both to build his upper body strength and to improve his stamina so he can get through 90 minutes.  Too often he is knackered at the end of games, which results in silly fouls like the one that got him sent off against Aberdeen.  And his penchant for going down too easily (although, given the kicking he took from Aberdeen and Hamilton Accies, he may be anticipating getting hacked) sticks in the craw a bit.

But there is no question in my mind that this kid is going to be special.  Heck, he's special already, the most talented player Caley Thistle have ever produced.  I can't believe Celtic only paid half a million for him.  And I dread the day that my team, already bereft of Billy Mckay, Marley Watkins and Graeme Shinnie from this time last year, has to do without Christie as well.  I just hope they have plenty of points on the board by the end of December...

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Is the Deilabus hitting the skids?

It was only one game, and we're not even a fifth of the way through the Scottish Premiership season, so we really shouldn't be jumping to conclusions.  Celtic are still 1/12 with bookmakers to win the title again.

But no question, Paul Quinn's late winner for Aberdeen's ten men against the Champions felt like a rubicon-crossing moment.  The Dons were unquestionably The Best Of The Rest, but they lost all four of last season's clashes between the sides and it felt like there was a massive green-and-white-hooped gorilla on their backs.  No more.  Winning, and after Jonny Hayes' red card too, was a big moment.  Add in a midweek victory over Hamilton and there is a five point gap at the top of the league.

Okay, so I still can't picture the Premiership trophy being lifted by Ryan Jack.  But it's quite remarkable that things have already gone this far.

Some Old Firm manager - I can't find which on Google - once said that a Rangers or Celtic boss was only ever three defeats away from a crisis.  Ronny Deila has only lost two matches this season, but they were terrible matches to lose.  If his team have another thirty-one games to atone for the Pittodrie defeat, there is no such opportunity to salvage something from the loss to Malmo that denied them a Champions League Group Stage appearance for a second consecutive season.

With rather unfortunate timing, Celtic published their accounts for 2014/15 on Friday.  For a club which has been run with fiscal common sense for a number of years now, it made for disappointing reading.  Deila's first season in charge resulted in losses of nearly £4million.  And that was despite the sale of goalkeeper Fraser Forster for around £10million last August.

The main reason for the losses was the disparity between Europa League and Champions League income, which comes to somewhere around £10million.  Whilst Europa League prize money has been increased for 2015/16, that financial black hole will remain close to an eight figure sum.  This time around, Celtic have plugged the gap with Virgil Van Dijk, sold to Southampton.  If it's third time unlucky next season, who on earth can they cash in on then?

And as a consequence, year by year the squad is weakened, and it becomes that little bit harder next time around to get through those early season European games.  It doesn't help that, at the moment, so many of his players are out of form.  It might be simplistic to claim that Leigh Griffiths is carrying the team, but it's not entirely untrue.  In midfield Scott Brown has looked lethargic (and possibly unfit), while Stefan Johansen's lack of positional sense has been woefully exposed by decent opponents and the continued faith in James Forrest is puzzling.

As for the defence...dear god.  Dedryck Boyata's July was good, but since then he's been terrible - the pointless penalty he conceded at Pittodrie summed him up perfectly.  Charlie Mulgrew hasn't recovered from a nightmare at left-back in Sweden.  Even Craig Gordon has started to look uncertain as a result of the chaos in front of him.  The defending of set pieces has been an absolute catastrophe so far this season, and Quinn's goal at the weekend suggested that very little time has been put into fixing this problem.  Maybe deadline day signings Jozo Simunovic and Tyler Blackett (really a centre-back rather than a left-back) will sort things, but both are just 21 and almost all young centre-backs will have their growing pains.

The mediocre recruitment hasn't helped.  Aside from Gordon and last year's loanee Jason Denayer, who else would you class as a successful signing?  Stuart Armstrong maybe.  Gary Mackay-Steven has been good in fits and starts.  John Guidetti was great to begin with.  Saidy Janko seems promising.  Against that you have Stefan Scepovic (who cost £2.3million!), Jo Inge Berget, Aleksandar Tonev and Mubarak Wakaso last season and Boyata, Nadir Ciftci and Scott Allan this time round.  The latter trio still have time to impress, but it would be a stretch to claim they are an improvement on what's come before them.

It is of course worth bearing in mind that Celtic won the league and League Cup last season, and probably would have completed the treble but for the Hand of Josh.  But the European failures have cost his club an absolute fortune and helped leave them in a far weaker position than when Neil Lennon left them.  Admittedly, there may be no way that Celtic can compete on a level - or at least only slightly inclined - playing field with the Barcelonas and Juventuses of this world anymore, not without ridiculous financial backing.  But with plenty of clubs in far-flung corners of the continent now funded by crazy sugar daddy money - just look at the Kazakhs who knocked Aberdeen out of the Europa League - the Bhoys could now even find it tough to beat them, especially if a pattern of gradual downsizing and cost-cutting has to continue

Of course, Celtic will remain Scottish football's biggest hitter by a long way - at least unless Rangers find that all the millions from their IPO are hidden down the back of an Ibrox sofa - and they should still win the title comfortably.  But there's no question that they are hugely vulnerable.  Whether Deila is to blame is tricky to answer.  But it's all happened on his watch.  And how many Celtic fans are confident that next season's European campaign would be third time lucky?

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Talking points from the Premiership

Aberdeen's statement of intent
On reflection, it was striking how closely this match mirrored the first fixture at Pittodrie between Derek McInnes' Aberdeen and Ronny Deila's Celtic.  Even before the teams kicked off, where last November there was a minute's silence for Remembrance Sunday, on Saturday there was a minute's applause for former Don and Scotland international Graham Leggat, who sadly passed away last month.

This time, though, it was the champions that struck first.  A superb ball from Charlie Mulgrew was controlled by Leigh Griffiths, and Andrew Considine - who had earlier muffed a couple of chances himself from inside the opposition six yard box - pulled Griffiths back to stop him getting inside his own six yard box.  It was a dumb penalty to concede, and the defender's yellow card could have been red.  Griffiths hit it into the bottom right corner, leaving Danny Ward no chance.

Adam Rooney did score against the champions once again - this time it was the equaliser, and that was a penalty too. Minutes after Aberdeen had claimed that Mulgrew had handled in the box, Jonny Hayes slipped a through ball to Graeme Shinnie in the penalty area and Dedrick Boyata clumsily challenged him in a position of little threat.  Rooney's penalty was also low and hard into the bottom right corner, sending Craig Gordon the wrong way.

This time around, it was Aberdeen that were reduced to ten men rather than Celtic.  After losing the ball following a mazy crossfield run by Hayes, Mikael Lustig intercepted and Hayes flew into a challenge to try and win the ball back. Both players were actually off their feet as they slid in for the ball, but for me the Hayes' challenge looked very similar (and no worse) than the one Craig Paterson was sent off for at Hamilton a fortnight ago, a red card that was subsequently rescinded.  I would not be surprised if the Dons appealed this one either.

Yet, as with last November, the side with a man advantage went on to lose the game, and this time it was Celtic who conceded a goal to a badly defended set piece.  Almost immediately after going down to ten men, Deila sportingly brought on Efe Ambrose to address the disparity and the Nigerian Nightmare duly obliged by providing by needlessly bundling Niall McGinn out of play.  McGinn floated in the free kick and Paul Quinn volleyed home, inexplicably unchallenged, from four yards.

There was still time for a late chance to equalise this time around, as goal hero Quinn almost turned villain by mucking up a headed clearance. Griffiths pounced and rounded Ward, only to be denied by a goal-line clearance from villain-turned-hero Considine.

Mercifully, we were spared a 'Derek Din' after the full time whistle, McInnes determined to make a more measured response.  It is still early on in the season, but there is no doubt that if Aberdeen was going to more closely challenge Celtic this season they would need to start getting results against them, and in that respect alone this win was an important marker to lay down. MI

Hearts need to show discipline

Friday night football returned to Inverness who secured their first win of the season thanks to goals from Scottish Cup hero James Vincent and recent loan signing Miles Storey either side of a red card for Hearts left back Juwon Oshaniwa for striking out at Tobi Sho-Silva.

After a largely forgettable first half Caley Thistle sparked into life when Ryan Christie, now on loan from Celtic of course, skipped by two Hearts players and fired the ball across the penalty area for Vincent to scramble in. It was the home side's first goal of the season in Inverness and the relief was obvious for fans and players alike.  Caley Thistle have struggled up front so far this season; John Hughes placed his faith in Spaniard Dani Lopez who, it was claimed, would hit double figures this season.  Unfortunately for ICT fans Lopez has struggled so far looking slow, unfit and extremely wasteful when playing as a striker.  The rest of the team didn’t seem be on the same wavelength and whilst the season isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination it looks unlikely that Lopez will make that ‘double figures’ target.

As a result supporters have been clamouring for reinforcements up front and on deadline day ICT snapped up two youngsters from England on loan, the aforementioned Storey and Sho-Silva.  The former, on loan from Swindon, started on Friday night and turned in a very encouraging performance capped with a goal.  It was by no means a perfect showing but the manner in which he buzzed about the pitch was heartening to the home supporters especially after the somewhat laboured performances to date from Lopez.  Storey showed great composure to create space to grab the second goal after the chance was seemingly gone.  Whilst he will need to work hard to get up to full fitness his arrival and performance was a welcome boost to an ICT side that had been flagging badly in that area of the team.

As for Hearts it goes without saying that keeping 11 men on the pitch will do wonders for their chances of success.  Two games in a row now the Edinburgh men have had a player sent off, although Patersons red card against Hamilton was rescinded, and they now find themselves topping the disciplinary tables with 14 yellow cards and 2 red cards amassed already.  Hearts quite often found themselves in hot water regarding disciplinary issues in the past and Robbie Neilson needs to keep his players under control.

Although they were already losing against Inverness when Oshaniwa was sent off Hearts appeared to lose their cool and on a couple of occasions launched themselves into some pretty hefty challenges. Had Hearts maintained their composure it was perfectly feasible that they could have snatched a point especially given that Caley Thistle weren’t all that great on Friday night and still looked pretty uncertain at the back.

Having Hearts back in the league is, at least from my perspective, a great thing. They bring a vociferous and large travelling support, curtailed by the Friday night kick off time, but whilst it is great to see Hearts back in the league and near the top end of the table Neilson will no doubt be keen to ensure that a return to the top of the disciplinary table does not also follow suit.

St. Johnstone's new philosophy reaps rewards

Scoring goals, as the cliché goes, is the hardest thing to do in football. That was certainly the case for St Johnstone last season when they somehow managed to finish fourth despite only St Mirren scoring fewer goals.  A solid, defensive team is to be admired, but as I can attest after writing about a fair share of their games last season, it’s not particularly enjoyable to watch.

Success last season was built on the third best defence in the league and it is unlikely that they will be able to maintain that level this season.  Indeed, so far this term they have the third worst defence in the league.  That is why the return to fitness and form of Steven MacLean is so important.

After selling Stevie May last summer, a large burden was placed on MacLean as the primary goalscorer.  Unfortunately he didn’t get much of an opportunity to show that he was up to the task during another injury hit campaign.  St Johnstone will need him to stay fit and in the kind of form he showed on Saturday if they are going to come anything close to replicating last season’s form.

This game could easily have gone the other way though had Brian Easton given away a penalty and got the red card he deserved for his challenge on Carlton Morris.  Craig Thomson may have got the headlines at Pittodrie but the decision by AndrewDallas here was as bad as any made in the north east. IM

Muirhead offers Partick Thistle hope

Should Partick Thistle fans be worried?  The home defeat to Dundee, coupled with other results, leaves them propping up the table.  They've scored just twice in the league this season, both against Kilmarnock.

It wasn't for want of trying here, though; Thistle hit the woodwork three times and passed up plenty of other chances.  There is certainly reason for hope here; loanee Robbie Muirhead, making his debut, combined well with the streetwise Kris Doolan and the Jags looked far more dangerous as a consequence.  Muirhead is at Firhill till January; on this evidence, Dundee United shouldn't have let him move, even temporarily.

But if you can't win the game, at least don't lose it; Callum Booth became the latest in a long line of Premiership left-backs who have inexplicably oblivious of the dangers posed by Greg Stewart's left foot, and his failure to show the Dundee forward towards the right touchline cost his side a point. LS

TFFK? Or should it be TFFDU?

The fans at Tannadice - both sets - honoured the great Ralph Milne pre-kickoff; sadly for the home support, the Dundee United players didn't come close to doing so with their performance.  Going by the first month of the season, it seemed that the fans of a few clubs (including this writer) would be using the acronym TFFK - Thank F*** For Kilmarnock - a lot this season.  And yet United contrived to lose to Killie, at home, courtesy of Kevin McHattie's terrific late strike.

In truth, Jackie McNamara's side should have won with a bit to spare; whilst they were poor in the first half and trailed to Kallum Higginbotham's penalty, they were well on top by the time Billy Mckay equalized from the spot (no gimme, given the Ulsterman's terrible record with penalties in his latter days at Inverness) and spurned numerous chances in the final quarter of the match.  Jamie MacDonald made a string of terrific saves for the umpteenth game this season, but for the first time in a while they earned his team a result rather than simply keeping the score down.

Dundee United will probably play worse than this in the coming months and still pick up points.  The problem now is that the crowd no longer have the patience to accept days when their team are unlucky; they've watched their team win just four of their last twenty-five games stretching back to February, and they sent their side down the tunnel to jeers of "Jackie, get to f***".  United can turn this around - I still don't think we'll be changing the acronym to TFFDU before the end of the season - but things may now be so poisonous that a change in the dugout is unavoidable. LS

Motherwell nick a point at the death

The Staggies came into this one knowing a win would narrow the gap in the race for second place following Aberdeen’s outstanding 2-1 victory over Celtic in the early kick-off (come on, I had to get that in somewhere!!).  Motherwell, meanwhile, were hoping 3 points at home would edge them closer to the top 6 positions. 3,545 fans stumped up to see this rather dour affair, the lowest crowd of the season so far at Fir Park.

Since my brief sojourn helping out County in 2014 only one face remains in the starting 11 – Rocco Quinn (with Scott Boyd being the only other player remaining). Not entirely relevant to this game, but left me amazed at the sheer turn around in playing squad since Derek Adams, and his old man George, left County and sprung up as far away from Dingwall (could you blame them?) in Plymouth.

The Dingwall men opened the scoring in the first half, when a long diagonal free kick caused confusion in the box and Michael Gardyne was on hand to sweep home with his left peg from just outside the 6 yard box  Both teams huffed and puffed before Motherwell scored in the dying embers of the game; a cute reverse pass by Keith Lasley sent substitute free on the left and his fizzed delivery was met by Louis Moult for a tap-in.

The Steelmen left it late to grab a point and all-in-all both teams will be relatively happy – Motherwell, for the fact that they looked like getting nothing from the game until the death, and Ross County, for enduring the second longest away day trip in the SPL and making the journey back up the A9 a little more palatable.

How times change, though; even six months ago, dropping two points late on at Fir Park would have been considered as potentially the difference between staying up and going down.  This season however, it could be the difference between top six and bottom six.  That's how much County have improved. ST

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically a Rangers fan, but these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog because now he can tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Andrew Sutherland (AS) occasionally writes for When Saturday Comes.  He would never miss an ICT match unless he was offered a date with the lead singer of CHVRCHES...who he would then take to said ICT match.

Stuart Taylor (ST) is Wick Academy's team doctor. He is an Aberdeen fan, especially now they're doing well again.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Remembering Ralph Milne

Sadly, Dundee United's legendary winger Ralph Milne died this week.  Dundee United fan and guest blogger Peter Clark wrote this for club fanzine The Final Hurdle more than twenty years ago, and felt the time was ripe to look it out again...

“And it’s Milne – one nil!”

A long time ago, me and some other guys used to meet every Sunday in Dawson Park, Broughty Ferry, stick some jerseys down for posts, spend a couple of frenetic hours blowing away the remnants of our teenage hangovers and living our our personal footballing fantasies. Fifty two weeks a year, all weather stuff - even when there was six inches of snow on the ground, a dozen of us still went up, and slagged off the girlies who hadn't made it.

One Sunday, however, the Gods smiled upon us. Our little runout was graced with the presence of one of the truly gifted, someone born to grace Pele's "beautiful game", a name that was to reverberate around Tannadice for the following six years and etch itself idelibly  into the folklore of Dundee United one afternoon in May '83, It was the summer of '78. The World Cup was over, but Scotland’s disgrace was forgotten. Our role models for the time being were Ari Ham, Johnny Rep, Leopoldo Luque, Daniel Passarella and, primarily, Mario Kempes. We imagined ourselves to be true exponents of the continental style exhibited by Holland and Argentina. Short passing, keeping it on the ground, interchangeable positions a la "total football", immaculately curled passes with instep and outside of boot, all culminating in thunderous thirty yarders which were a common feature of the matches in Argentina. Well, that's how I remember it . . . .

Anyway this extraordinary Sunday started much as most others did. We claimed our normal patch, made the goals, picked sides and got on with it. For some reason, we had a shitty ball, which obviously failed to do justice to our extravagant abilities, but we could cope.

In the distance, two figures approached. They were coming towards us. Occasionally, people would ask for a game, and these guys were either going to do that, watch us, or try and nick  something/beat us up (both fairly common occurrences), It was when they got closer that someone recognised one of them.

"It's Ralph Milne!" he whispered urgently, obviously not wanting to appear uncool. And it was.

They watched for a minute, flares gently flapping in the breeze, then Ralph asked for a game. Who were we to refuse? Kempes was suddenly history. Here was Ralphie. On the verge of the first team, definitely a name for the future, but the genuine article, an honest-to-God pro.

Ralphie immediately took up station at centre forward. Stuff this winger nonsense. The gulf between a pro and us seemed improbably large. We wanted to see what one was really like in our environment. How fast was he? How fit was he? Was his control much better? Could he read a game instantly and thread passes into gaps which no one else saw? Would he dance round our tackles as if we weren't there? Was he hard - not dirty, just toughened by being a professional sportsman? Were his predatory instincts and finishing skills on a different planet? Would he think we were a bunch of hopeless wankers?

Given the strength of our anticipation, Ralphie‘s performance over the next half hour left us somewhat bewildered.

Demanding the ball to feet at every opportunity, his only contribution was to turn, run a few paces, and shoot from wherever he was. And that meant anywhere. Handicapped by his flares (still the biggest pair ever seen on a football pitch in the UK), and our crappy ball, this was a predictably fruitless exercise. I can't remember if he did actually manage to score — I think he did, as I have vague recollections of some wildely extravagant celebrations when one of his efforts did manage to creep in. Eventually, him and his mate (who had posted himself to the left wing, closely marked by ten B&H) pissed off, Ralphie satiated by his daily soccer fix.

Afterwards, we attempted to analyse what we had seen. Was this a young pro, so fed up with the level of coaching, control, discipline and regimentation imposed on him, simply letting off steam a bit? Was he giving rein to his instincts, experiencing the pure pleasure that the simplest game in the World can offer, rediscovering his childhood enthusiasm? Had McLean's draconian regime so stiffled him, that he was damned to wander Dawson Park of a Sunday to try and remotivate himself for Monday morning training?

In fact, he was probably just pissing about. The player I watched, once established in the first team, bore no resemblance to the Dawson Park version. Because that version was crap. For half an hour one afternoon, he looked like the park footballer, and we, the pros - well, not quite, but you get the picture.

Just how integral he became to the United of the early eighties can be gleaned from another look at "The Jim McLean Years" video, where nearly every clip featuring a European cup tie showed a further example of Milne virtuosity.

Still, I’m glad he wasn't on my side that day in Dawson. And those flares . . .

Peter Clark saw Dundee United win the league at Dens in 1983. His wife suspects everything since has been a bit disappointing.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Strachan's misplaced loyalties exposed in Georgia

I put out the call for an 'eviscerating' blog after the Georgia game, and guest blogger Stuart Taylor answered it...

"No, still no shots on target..."

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a Strachan fan. His smug quips and retorts to interviewers when at Parkhead raised my ire on many an occasion. However, when he took the reigns at Hampden I, along with countless others, was happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, given the debacle of the Levein era and ‘4-6-0’. To be fair, I think a management team of Jimmy Hill, Hitler and Katie Hopkins, with Berti Vogts as Director of Football, would’ve been welcomed by the Tartan Army at that point.
Strachan has been given an easy ride by the Scottish press, and sections of the Tartan Army, during this campaign. Admittedly we are still in with a shout of reaching third place. However, we were woeful against Gibraltar, woeful in Dublin, the home result against Ireland could’ve easily ended 0-0 and we did, as expected, against Germany – grafted but lost. The 2-2 draw against Poland seems the exception to the rule.

The result against a team ranked 147 in world sticks in the throat. Scotland were woefully inept, and surely some of the blame for this must sit with wee Gordon.
The choice of Alan Hutton at right back makes a mockery of Strachan’s early claims that players will be picked on form, rather than reputation. He has barely had a good game in the dark blue jersey since the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. The fact he can barely get a game for a distinctly average Aston Villa side says it all. All the ‘white Cafu’ nonsense of his younger days seems to have gone to his head, and defending, rather than rampaging forward with little intent, seems to be beneath him. Although I am far from an admirer, Steven Whittaker may offer a better alternative at right back – at least he is playing regular first team football.

The selection of Scott Brown and James Morrison in the heart of the midfield was also a baffling one, particularly away from home. Morrison is too dimunitive and soft to excel in the role. Brown, for all his (albeit limited) qualities, is not a holding midfielder and was woefully exposed at times, none more so than in the build up to Georgia’s goal. Interestingly, Strachan has the potential solution to this conundrum in his squad, yet fails to utilise him; Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur. He has flourished since the arrival of Alan Pardew at Palace, with his calm, unfussy style allowing the likes of Sako, Bolasie, Zaha and Cabaye express themselves in front of him. Surely he is worth consideration for the Germany game?

As for our alleged front man? Steven Fletcher would look more at home at a ‘hipster’ convention, with his tattoos and huge beard, than on an international football pitch. His Sunderland form is beyond dreadful at present. Having watched every Highland league team on several occasions over the last couple of years I have genuinely seen players at that level with more pace, desire and a better first touch. If proper scouting had taken place, Strachan & Co would’ve have seen that the Georgia centre halves had the turning circle of an arctic lorry and would struggle with pace in the channels, something that Fletcher doesn’t offer.  A certain Celtic front man, with a dodgy hair transplant, may well have provided this.

It is not all doom and gloom however. Shaun Maloney, despite his advancing years, still looks capable of producing something – whether from a smart through ball or a set piece. Andrew Robertson, although not his best game, should have the left back spot nailed down for the next few years. David Marshall and Craig Gordon ensure we are well stocked between the sticks, and Russell Martin is a serviceable centre half in this side.

I fully understand that Scotland is a ‘wee country’ and that we don’t have any top class talents available to us that other comparable nations have, such as Bale for Wales, Eriksen for Denmark, or the sublime Zlatan for Sweden. However, to progress, Strachan must take some gambles, try something different as the ‘tried and trusted’ simply won’t cut it.

Despite this, come Monday night, I will be sitting at home, with my Scotland shirt on proudly singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ and cheering our boys on in the unlikely pursuit of victory over the world champions, Germany. And do you know what? Knowing Scotland, a win wouldn’t surprise me...

Stuart Taylor is Wick Academy's team doctor. He is an Aberdeen fan, especially now they're doing well again