Monday, September 5, 2016

Talking points from Malta

Strachan got the result he needed
I wrote before the game that Gordon Strachan needed a convincing win in order to give him a bit of breathing space, and I'd say he got it.  There are plenty of foibles - not least that we didn't look comfortable before the worst penalty decision in the history of the world ever went in our favour, and that between Malta's goal and half-time the players looked paralyzed by the dread of the newspaper headlines that would await them.  But 5-1 looks good, and we deserved it in the end.  That should inject a wee bit of hope and optimism into the Tartan Army, and give them more reason to turn out in big numbers and loud voice for another must-win game next, at home to Lithuania.

If only we'd had Snodgrass in the Euro qualifiers
It's impossible not to feel good for Robert Snodgrass, who had established himself as a Scotland regular before the horrendous knee injury that ruled him out of the entire Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.  Technically gifted, yet also powerful - he missed a glorious chance with a header in the first half - he's a huge asset in attack.  His workrate can't be criticized either; not too many folk would have hopefully sprinted 50 yards up the pitch late on in case there was a rebound on the go, but he did so and was rewarded with his hat-trick.  We are a much, much better team with him in it, and it also raises a wee 'what if' regarding how we might have done against Poland, Ireland et al had he not wrecked his knee.  That trident of attacking midfielders looks pretty slick; Matt Ritchie was a standout, and Oliver Burke will have lots of better days than this.

Chris Martin is not the answer up front
In the first half, we'd have been better off having the Coldplay singer up front.  The hold-up play - presumably the reason he was in the team - was particularly poor.  Martin's tap-in partially redeemed him, but then he had to go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like missing a sitter and inexplicably winning a penalty in the process.  Whilst Strachan isn't exactly blessed with strikers (and the one on form, Leigh Griffiths, was unavailable), picking Martin, who hadn't scored in his last 14 club games going back to April, over Steven Fletcher (whose recent form is no better but who is a superior player) was puzzling.

Central defence remains a glaring weakness
I wonder if Grant Hanley ever regrets time-travelling forward from the Stone Age to try and solve Scotland's central defensive crisis?  Scotland's only away clean sheet in Euro qualifying was in Gibraltar, and our issues at the back are clearly no near resolution.  Hanley was fortunate to get away with some very physical play at times, whilst Russell Martin was badly at fault for Alfred Effiong's goal.  The fact that lone striker Effiong, who has never played outside the Maltese league, was such a nuisance does not bode well for the challenges to come.  In addition, their lack of comfort in possession, always playing short passes sideways or to Darren Fletcher and Barry Bannan, slowed down build-up play too much.  That said, I'm not sure there are better options at the moment than Hanley and Martin.  That's a depressing thought.

Malta are crap
Malta were certainly game after they scored, but their plan was very much to defend deep and keep the damage to a minimum.  It was critical we won this, because I don't see anyone else dropping points when they visit.

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.

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